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Get to Know Jillian Simpson President and CEO, Alaska Travel Industry Association

Dec 2, 2023
December 2023

PHOTO: © ALASKA TRAVEL INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION

THE BASICS
Name: Jillian Simpson
Title: President and CEO
Company, city: Alaska Travel Industry Association; Anchorage, Alaska
First job: I was a receptionist for a small company in Boston that ran Irish pubs; it was fun.
Where to next: I’m going to Denver, to Red Rocks, to see Brandi Carlile with my daughters.

A LITTLE BIT MORE
What actor or actress would play you in a movie of your life?
I’d choose Julia Louis- Dreyfus because I have been told I dance like Elaine from Seinfeld.

What would you be doing professionally if you weren’t in your current industry?
I would like to do something with the Arctic Council. I’m interested in the Arctic, and I’m currently getting a masters in Arctic and Northern Studies from University of Alaska Fairbanks.

What is your favorite book, movie or television show?
I recently read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, an Alaskan writer. It’s historical fiction about a couple who homestead in Alaska and can’t have children. They built a child out of snow and it came to life, so it’s magical, beautifully written and touching.

 What historical figure, dead or alive, would you love to have dinner with?
I really admire the naturalist Mardy Murie, often called the grandmother of the conservation movement. She spent a lot of time in the wilderness and Arctic Alaska, learning about the flora and fauna.

THE BUSINESS
What is your most recent project, and what was the inspiration behind it?
One big thing ATIA works on is expanding and amplifying cultural tourism. Most recently, we dedicated a seat on our board of directors to an Alaskan Native person. We [have a] culture guide and a lot more cultural assets and ambassadors, whether on travelalaska.com or our social media channels. A lot of our advertising and content creation focuses on recognizing Alaska as an indigenous place.

What is your favorite aspect of the job?
I love how tight we are in Alaska; it’s cliché [to say] we’re like a family, but it’s true. We band together; we work well together; we lift each other up. I feel fortunate to be around so many passionate, smart and dedicated people.

What’s the biggest business risk you’ve ever taken?
We make mindful decisions that are the best for tourism as well as the destination as a whole, so I don’t have a risk that fits for us.

Who is someone you admire professionally in the travel industry?
Definitely within Alaska tourism there are strong and amazing women who mentored me. Thinking globally, I admire Anna Pollock’s work around regenerative tourism. I find her inspiring.

AS A TRAVELER
Tell us about a travel nightmare: We all went through a travel nightmare during COVID; that was hard for anyone who loves to travel. I missed being able to get out and see other places and experience other cultures.

Share a comical travel experience: This is more my best travel memory. The first time I traveled in Alaska, I went up Dalton Highway, the one road north of Fairbanks that crosses the Arctic Circle and takes you to the Brooks Range. I was gone for a few nights on a camping expedition, and it was magical. I saw musk ox on mountain ridges and Dall sheep and the most beautiful scenery ever. And then the northern lights came out, and it was just pure bliss. I felt so touched by the whole experience and fell in love with the Arctic.

What is your preferred method of travel — planes, trains, automobiles, cruise ships — and why?
I love travel by train because it’s romantic, and what’s not to love about a cruise? But Alaska has few roads, and a lot of villages and communities are only accessible by small plane. It’s such a unique and stunning way of travel and, in Alaska, a unique part of our destination. You’re closer [to the ground] than in a jet, so you have a different perspective on the landscape. I actually saw beluga whales once from a plane.

What has been the best example of customer service you’ve experienced during your travels?
I spent time in Jamaica with my family, and it was a long day of travel on the way back. We used multiple carriers and got into Anchorage late at night. It wasn’t Alaska Airlines’ fault, but one of the car seats was missing. I had two small kids and a 30-minute drive ahead of us. Alaska Airlines gave us two free car seats so we could safely get home. I was so touched by that as a mom with tired kids. No questions asked, just, “Here you go.”

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