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Bruce Bustamante Resigns as President of the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau;
Instrumental in Raising Hotel Room Tax to Fund Convention Center

By Richard Richtmyer, Anchorage Daily News, AlaskaMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Feb. 17, 2007 - Bruce Bustamante is leaving his position as president of the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau to join Princess Tours, where he will be the cruise company's senior executive based in Alaska.

Bustamante, 49, has been named vice president of community and public affairs for the Seattle-based cruise and tour company. He will start in mid-May, or sooner if the convention bureau finds a replacement before then, the company said.

Naming Bustamante to the new post and basing him in Anchorage is linked to a broader effort in the cruise industry to improve its relationship with Alaskans. Just last week, the major lines sailing state waters announced they had formed the Alaska Cruise Association, a trade group aimed at doing just that.

"Princess is really becoming a much more active corporate and community citizen, and a big part of my job will be building relationships in the community," Bustamante said Friday.

Bustamante will represent Princess on the new cruise association and take on other responsibilities, said Charlie Ball, the company's president. Those will include working with government officials and assisting with strategic development for Princess' Alaska operations, Ball said.

The cruise industry suffered a political and financial setback last summer when Alaska voters approved a ballot initiative that imposed tens of millions of dollars in new taxes, required stricter environmental oversight and required the cruise outfits to disclose their commissions from shore-based tour operators and stores advertised on ships.

Ball said the message voters sent was a large part of the reason Princess chose to tap someone with strong ties to Alaska for the post Bustamante is taking.

"The initiative was a wake-up call, in some respects, that we're a big industry in Alaska and it's high time to increase our resources toward working with its communities," Ball said.

Bustamante, an Alaska resident since 1992, took over as the convention bureau's president in April 2000. The group uses a mix of public and private funds to market Anchorage to meeting planners and tourists.

Among Bustamante's more high-profile endeavors as the group's leader was his efforts to win support for raising the city's hotel tax to pay for a new convention center. Voters nixed the idea in 2002 but then narrowly approved it in 2004.

Workers are building the $108 million convention center project downtown, and it is scheduled to open next year.

But Bustamante said he is most proud of the work he did that happened out of the public spotlight, including assembling a marketing team that helped keep visitors coming to Anchorage after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks caused a sharp decline in air travel.

"We stayed true to our marketing and sales mission and really minimized the impact," Bustamante said. "That's probably a bigger accomplishment than getting the convention center."

The convention bureau's board of directors will choose Bustamante's successor.

Steve Silverstein, the board's vice chairman, is heading a committee charged with finding a replacement. Bustamante, as required by his employment contract, gave three months' notice of his intention to leave, giving the board plenty of time, Silverstein said.

"We're not going to be in a rush," he said. "Bruce is going to be around for a couple of months, and we want to make sure we find the right candidate. This is a very important job, not just for Anchorage but the whole state."

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Copyright (c) 2007, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska

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