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Marketing 'The Great Land'

ATIA relies on First National for back room support

Some might say a state as beautiful as Alaska markets itself. The people at Alaska Travel Industry Association know that there is more to it than that.

Although many visitors are drawn to “the Great Land” simply because Alaska is the place to see mountains, glaciers and wildlife, others need a little nudge.

What visitors don’t see is the organization’s employees tracking a multimillion dollar budget, paying dozens of contractors from all around the world and coordinating direct deposit of employees’ pay.

“Things get pretty wild around here,” said Shirley Laird, Director of Finance and Human Resources for ATIA, as she zipped from one room to another at the organization’s Anchorage office to facilitate another meeting. “If we didn’t love Alaska it would make what we’re doing feel like work. But since we believe in what we’re doing, it’s a lot of fun.”

Having a bank like First National that’s focused on Alaska – and provides high-tech solutions to keep up with the financial aspects of businesses – clears the way to spend more energy on the task at hand.

“Two of the main barriers for people visiting the state are the cost and the distance of travel to Alaska,” said Laird. “To attract visitors, we have to overcome those two perceptions.”

The Alaska Travel Industry Association is the statewide membership based association of travel and tourism related companies that markets Alaska as a tourism destination.

Worldwide efforts include tradeshows, advertisements, direct mail pieces, the Web site www.travelalaska.com and much more. All the association’s marketing activities have one goal: bringing more visitors to the state. The Web site alone has had more than 1 million page views each of the last four months.

“It’s one way we can tell that what we are doing is working,” Laird said.

Through all the efforts, ATIA has two distinct sets of customers: tourists and the organization’s members.

“We have about 1,000 members in our database,” said Laird. “We do a lot of cooperative advertising with most of those members.”

Started in 2000, ATIA is a nonprofit organization funded through state appropriations, membership dues, contributions and participation in various marketing programs. The $10 million annual budget pays staff salaries, advertising and marketing expenses, printing of several large collateral pieces and much more.

“We aim to take Alaska to the world,” said Laird.

Doing that requires extensive travel, hiring and paying contractors in several countries, managing complex budgets all the while keeping track of account balances, and managing cash flow.

“As you can imagine, it is a balancing act sometimes,” said Laird.

For its banking needs, ATIA turned to First National. ATIA has been using online business banking for years to track daily account balances, and issue stop payments. The organization also used BusinessLink, First National’s modem-based ACH and wire transfer module.

ATIA recently upgraded to Business Essential for basic online banking and Business Advantage for ACH and wire transfers. Those two services make up the bank’s new, robust online business banking products.

Laird said she still uses all of the online services she has in the past, but now with Business Advantage she has real time account information.

“It is really nice to go online and track all our transactions,” Laird said. “Plus, our employees really like the direct deposit.”

Using First National’s online system to track payments and fund transfers helps Laird always have a handle on the organization’s finances, a challenge with all the activities going on at any one time.

And every time another would-be tourist visits ATIA’s Web site, links to a member site and books a service or requests one of 450,000 copies of the annual Alaska Official State Vacation Planner, ATIA has made another step toward taking Alaska to the world.

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