The owners of the hotel that for decades has been the Anchorage headquarters of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race said Wednesday the hotel will no longer sponsor the event after this year’s race.
The Lakefront Anchorage Hotel will still serve as race headquarters in Anchorage for the upcoming race, set to begin March 6 in Willow, according to the hotel’s manager and Chas St. George, chief operations officer with the Iditarod Trail Committee.
But the hotel along Lake Spenard won’t be the operational headquarters next year, said John Bruce, the hotel’s manager.
Millennium Hotels and Resorts, which owns the Lakefront hotel, announced the decision in a statement on Wednesday.
For decades, the hotel has served as the race’s symbolic home base in the city, where mushers and dogs in their trucks gather. It has housed mushers and spectators at a discount, supported Iditarod-related events such as musher registration, and served as the holding site for dogs that are dropped from the race, Bruce said.
But Bruce said the hotel won’t sponsor the race, and expects it won’t hold events or accept the dropped dogs starting next year.
Millennium’s “decision was not taken lightly,” Bruce said in the statement Wednesday. The hotel supports the business the race generated over the years, he said.
The hotel’s affiliation with the Iditarod has been especially costly during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said in a phone interview on Wednesday. The hotel has long provided discounted space to support events.
But the hotel guests who would come for the race weren’t coming during the pandemic and weren’t available to offset the cost of the hotel’s support for the race as they once did, he said.
“I think this pandemic has affected the hospitality industry probably the most out of any industry, and it was just that,” he said.
“We’re willing to help them in any way to secure a future location, but I don’t think they’ll have much problem (finding a new site),” Bruce said.
Millennium, which owns or manages more than 100 hotels around the world, acquired the Anchorage hotel in 2001. The hotel had sponsored the event for nearly 30 years, through a local agreement, Millennium said.
Millennium had never had a “direct sponsorship” with the race, the company said.
The decision does not affect the mushers’ banquet, which is held at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in downtown Anchorage and is set for March 3.
The hotel’s move came as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced plans to protest Thursday at a Millennium hotel in Chicago to denounce the company’s support for the race.
Hours after Millennium’s announcement on Wednesday, the animal rights group said it was turning the protest in Chicago into a celebration, and would cancel a planned ad campaign in Singapore, the location of the hotel chain’s parent company. PETA, in a prepared statement, said in the past year it has targeted Millennium with protests around the world, including outside the Lakefront Anchorage Hotel. It also ran negative ads in hospitality magazines, on Anchorage buses, and on a billboard near a Millennium hotel in New York City. The ads show a photograph of a dog tied to a chain and call the hotel group Millhellium.
Bruce said pressure from PETA was not part of the hotel’s decision.
Rob Urbach, chief executive of the Iditarod, said in an interview on Wednesday that the end of the hotel’s sponsorship in 2023 will not set the race back.
“It’s not a material issue,” he said.
He said the Iditarod is doing well with sponsorships, after gaining five new sponsors for this year, including oil company Hilcorp Alaska.
“We are laser-focused on this race,” he said. “It’s not something I’ll spend more than a second on until April or May.”
He believes that mushers will still stay at the hotel in the future and the Iditarod may still use the hotel in some way.
“I think it’s an iconic Alaska hotel in a great location,” he said, near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and Lake Hood, considered the world’s busiest floatplane base.
Millennium is the latest in a line of sponsors to step away from the event.
ExxonMobil dropped its sponsorship of the race early last year as PETA prepared to run ads targeting the oil giant in the run-up to last year’s race. Alaska Airlines and Chrysler, through an Anchorage dealership, also stepped away from the race after PETA protested at the company’s national headquarters. Wells Fargo and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey have also dropped support for the race.
Hilcorp Alaska and its affiliate Harvest Midstream, telecommunications company GCI, and mining company Donlin Gold continue to be top sponsors for the race, according to the race’s website.
PETA said in its statement on Wednesday that it has recently purchased stock in Liberty Broadband, the Colorado-based owner of GCI. The group says it plans to pressure the telecommunications company to drop its sponsorship of the Iditarod.