Monday, March 13, 2006

Ads aimed at Alaska wolf-kills hit national publications

Tourism officials aren't worried; bookings are up for season.

By ALEX deMARBAN - Anchorage Daily News

A wildlife protection group has reloaded and is aiming again at Alaska's tourism industry. This time it's with a catchy ad slamming the aerial wolf-kill program.

"If you shoot wolves to save moose and then you shoot the moose you're either out of your mind or in Alaska," the ad says above a pack of wolves in a snowfield.

Connecticut-based Friends of Animals is running the ad today in the nation's largest newspaper, USA Today. It will also run in several magazines this spring. At the bottom of the ad, a mail-in clip- out asks for contributions and begs travelers to snub Alaska because tourist dollars condone the slaughtering of wolves.

Alaska visitor industry representatives questioned whether the campaign would work.

Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral said the ad will stem tourism in Alaska and perpetuate the state's reputation, in her view, as a nursery for nitwit schemes.

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' angry defense of earmark spending for costly Alaska bridges, for example, made the Last Frontier the butt of late-night talk-show wisecracks this winter.

"The state is going to have to spend and spend and spend to overcome an image problem that comes from mean-spiritedness and primitive ideas," Feral said.

The Friends of Animals campaign started just days after Gov. Frank Murkowski announced the state will pay up to $150,000 for a marketing study to improve the nation's view of Alaska. The governor said criticism of the bridges, for instance, shows people don't understand Alaskans.

More than 500 wolves have been killed by aerial gunners since the state started the predator-control program, intended to produce more moose.

Feral said Friends of Animals will lose money from the high cost of the ad, despite the donation coupon. The USA Today ad cost $40,000 even with a discount for the nonprofit organization. It will reach more than 2 million people, Feral said. Millions more will see the ad in magazines like Harper's Weekly, The Nation and Vegetarian Times.

The campaign's effect, however, will be negligible, predicted Ron Peck, president and chief operating officer of the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

The group ran similar ads in The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times two years ago. Those had no measurable impact on tourism here, Peck said. Neither has a new campaign by Friends of Animals asking wolf advocates to send in digital photographs taken outside the state. In the photographs, posted on the group's Web site, people from around the world hoist signs saying, "I'd rather be here than in Alaska."

In fact, Peck is bullish. Industry testimony of bookings and a recent study point to 3 percent to 5 percent growth in tourism this summer, well above the anticipated national average, he said. Ironically, the only sector that might be affected is the eco-tourism industry, he said. Clients who prefer those types of tours, such as guided wildlife viewing, are also likely to oppose the state's wolf-kill program. "It's like they're eating their own," he said of the Friends of Wildlife campaign.

Wendy Sailors said the Anchorage-based Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association opposes the wolf-kill program. But the association, which represents primarily small eco-tour operators, opposes the boycott. The boycott will increase the amount of protest mail the association receives, but it won't force the governor to end the program, said Sailors, the association's executive director.

A position statement written by Sailors and posted on the group's Web site says the boycott could hurt small eco-tour businesses. This season, however, it won't make much of a difference, Sailors said. Companies have reported increased bookings, and many travelers are gearing up for their Alaska adventure.

"I wouldn't say it's a big threat," she said.

  • Anchorage Daily News
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