‘It’s in my blood’: Mary Pignalberi on her 50 years in tourism

‘It’s in my blood’: Mary Pignalberi on her 50 years in tourism
Published: Jun. 19, 2023 at 9:29 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - There’s places and things that make living in Alaska unique, but there’s also people who do the same. If you’re visiting Alaska for the first time, chances are you stop at the Visitor Information Center in Downtown Anchorage. It’s packed with brochures, maps and volunteers like Mary Pignalberi, who goes by Mary P. She certainly knows a thing or two about Alaska tourism.

“It started in October of 1969 in Juneau, Alaska. I arrived there and two weeks later, I was at the Alaska State Division of Tourism,” Pignalberi said.

Mary P. started out as a secretary and from there, became a travel promotion specialist. Back then, promoting Alaska to tourists wasn’t easy.

“There really was no tourism to speak of back in those days of Alaska and so we were, you know, just struggling somewhat,” Pignalberi said.

Mary P. working in the tourism industry over the years.
Mary P. working in the tourism industry over the years.(Mary P.)

She moved to Fairbanks to help start up the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau, and then Anchorage where she was the first vice president of sales and marketing for the one here. Over time Mary P. and her team helped the bureau grow and given a few more positions, Alaska’s tourism industry was seeing success.

“Where it’s just mind blowing. For me, it’s really, because I can remember there was nothing in Denali Park during those early years,” Pignalberi said. Adding, “There was no such thing really as a remote fishing lodge or resort or any of that.”

Fast forward to 2023 and Mary P. has turned her talent to volunteering at the visitor center — something she’s been doing for the last three summers.

“Think I had decided, okay, you’re done. You’ve done everything you can do, but it’s in my blood. So I love it,” Pignalberi explained.

Her favorite part is the people — learning where they’re from, what they like to do and then suggesting ways to see and experience all that Alaska has to offer.

“Over the years that I’ve traveled a lot out of here representing the state, and you know, every time I come back, it’s just, there’s no place as beautiful as this,” Pignalberi said.

Mary P. isn’t quite sure if she will volunteer another summer, or the one after that.

“I get here and it just, something clicks in. There’s just this energy about it you know, because you love it and you know about it, and you want to share it and all of that so I don’t know we’ll see. Good health providing I’ll do my best anyway,” she said.

On April 14, Mary Pignalberi was presented with the All-Alaskan award as part of the Seymour Awards. The All-Alaskan award recognizes a person or business with longevity, sense of community and stewardship and personifies the Alaska spirit that Visit Anchorage shares with travelers.