|  September 20, 2014  |  
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Begich to Alaska travel industry reps: “How can I help?”

Members of Alaska’s travel and tourism industry from across the state took the opportunity to meet with Sen. Mark Begich and Daniel Halpern, a board member of Brand USA, about how the federal government and the recently created Brand USA marketing initiative can help support the industry in Alaska.

The meeting took place during the first day of the Alaska Travel Industry Association’s annual convention Tuesday, which welcomed more than 500 delegates to Anchorage to review recent industry research and discuss Alaska’s marketing plans for the coming fiscal year.

Topics during the discussion included everything from cruise-ship emissions, Alaska’s general aviation industry, the future of the Alaska Railroad and opportunities to partner with Brand USA in marketing Alaska to international visitors.

“There’s no question that tourism, and the visitors it brings to our state, are key to Alaska’s prosperity. As chair of the Senate Tourism Caucus, I’m working hard to ensure that the federal government recognizes the importance of Alaska tourism and dedicates the necessary resources to keep strengthening the industry,” Begich said. Begich was an original co-sponsor of the Travel Promotion Act, which passed in 2010 and led to the creation of Brand USA to market the United States as a travel destination to potential international visitors.

Among the testimony was that of Susanne Rust, co-owner of Rust’s Flying Service. She discussed inconsistent application of aviation excise taxes on air taxi operators. Part of the problem, she said, is that the IRS uses a different definition of air taxi operations like hers than the FAA does, which operate on demand instead of scheduled service. Due to the inconsistency in language, the IRS is attempting to collect back taxes from businesses like hers – in some cases in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Begich and Halpern also heard from members of the cruise industry, Alaska convention and visitors bureaus from Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau, Alaska Native tourism operators, the Alaska Railroad, the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development and several small-business owners in the tourism industry.

“I’m always thankful for the creative ideas fellow Alaskans bring to these discussions. The group had many strong suggestions about how to keep the industry’s momentum going, and I look forward to fighting for these measures in Washington to strengthen Alaska’s economy,” Begich continued.

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