A special meeting is set for next week regarding borough funding of education and tourism marketing. Borough mayor Charlie Pierce vetoed more than $800,000 in additional borough funding to the school district and the Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council.
KPTMC is shaking up some of its board membership as it works to find common ground with the borough. The mayor’s proposed budget cut funding to KPTMC by roughly two thirds, coming in at a flat $100,000. That was later amended to bring funding back up to previous levels, just north of $300,000. But Mayor Pierce says he wants more accountability for how that money is spent.
“There were a number of attempts, even back when I was on the assembly for six years, to challenge these agencies to demonstrate some clear and precise performance measures. Bring something to us in the way the grants administrator could go in and audit and do an evaluation. We could have written the contract differently, and we will next year, and perhaps we’ll have a different experience next year.”
KPTMC Executive Director Summer Lazenby says they’re committed to finding common ground with the administration on what the best tools are to promote the area.
“This organization wants to work with the borough not against the borough. So we are moving in a direction that is cooperative as possible, still staying true to what we want to do as far as marketing the Kenai.”
At issue is the basic strategy behind that. While KPTMC has a strong following online, especially on facebook, the mayor would like to see that amplified. He thinks it would cost less while being more effective and reduce the need for borough funding. Lazenby says there’s always room for new tools to reach potential visitors, but it’s a moving target with no one perfect weapon.
“We’re in a state of flux as far as the age group and their skill sets as far as technology-driven media. We want to stay nimble and quick and try to hit those moving targets and that’s what we’re going to be working on in the coming months.”
What that really boils down to is the demographic group that’s most likely to plan a trip here is relatively old. That means, relatively, they’re not as easy to reach online, and so more traditional, and more expensive, marketing tools are used to reach them. Think mailers and guidebooks rather than travel or social media apps on your phone. Those might work well for the younger crowd, but they also tend to have fewer discretionary dollars to spend on big trips than their elders. Plus, getting people here is just half the equation.
“I think with the 2016 report that we got through the McDowell Group, there was a lot of great data in there that we hadn’t accessed before. So I think that’s a great piece of data as we move forward with different types of approaches.”
Lazenby says there are limitations to that, but big data drives a lot of decisions these days, and could be helpful here in zeroing on exactly the people who are looking to visit. There will also be a change in who’s driving decisions at the board level for KPTMC. They’ve announced some new leadership as the fiscal year changes. Danny Seavey, who runs Ididaride Sled Dog tours in Seward will serve as president. Kenai Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Johna Beech, who had served in that role, will remain on the board.
“The board decided that a shift in scope was appropriate, moving from a Chamber format to a business leader format. Up until a few years ago, that was the system that was in place and Johna stepped up when we were having a hard time finding a business leader who was able to jump in there, but in the previous year, she was a great mentor and I learned so much from her leadership as far as entering the tourism arena.”
A special meeting of the assembly to vote on whether or not to uphold the mayor’s budget vetoes is scheduled for Friday, July 6th.