No Ordinary Adventure

Alaska UnVeiled - A Fascinating Journey Through the Eyes of the Alaska Travel Industry Association

March 16, 2023 No Ordinary Adventure by UnCruise Adventures
No Ordinary Adventure
Alaska UnVeiled - A Fascinating Journey Through the Eyes of the Alaska Travel Industry Association
Show Notes Transcript

Captain Dan Blanchard recently sat down with the Alaska Travel Industry Association to discuss the tourism industry in Alaska. The conversation covered various topics, including how people migrate to Alaska, and the challenges facing the tourism industry in the state, and offered expert travel tips for those visiting Alaska. 

Alaska lures in travelers with its natural beauty, and the desire for a new adventure. Many people also visit Alaska for its wildlife, glaciers, and national parks.

But due to Alaska’s remote location and vast size, it can be difficult to reach many parts of Alaska, and the harsh weather conditions can also be a barrier for travelers. Despite these challenges, the Alaska Travel Industry Association shared some expert travel tips for those planning a trip to Alaska. 

Whether you're considering a move to the state or planning a vacation, understanding the factors that shape the tourism industry in Alaska can help you better plan and enjoy your experience. 

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Well, welcome to no ordinary adventure with Captain Dan Blanchard me as we explore Alaska. And I think at this stage, it's kind of for this particular cast. It's about the Alaska industry and things that are available to us. We're one of the few states that has a volunteer based Alaska tourism industry association. Atia, we affectionately call it based on Anchorage. And Atia is is a volunteer in the sense that the board members and that type of thing are all people from businesses in Alaska. It is supported by the state of Alaska and by our dues and this kind of thing. But the big thing is, is that this is really an industry based Association. And one of the things that's just almost astonishes people when they first come into the Alaska travel industry from other states, other countries is how cohesive the Alaska tourism industry association is in representing all of us in small business like UnCruise Adventures. So I thought it would be really good to talk to Tanya and Wendy today about their rules and what they do at ATIA or the Alaska tourism industry association, and present that to you. So you have a little baby pulled a cover back on UnCruise and Alaska travel industry, and some of the workings that happen from an industry standpoint, as well as from a visitor standpoint and Alaska. I'll first introduce Tanya, Tanya, do you want to just say a couple things about yourself, kind of get a little professional background and tell folks what you're doing? Yeah. So I'm the director of travel, trade, international markets and sustainability here at Ha, I don't have I guess, necessarily the traditional tourism background, I came to Alaska in college to study marine biology, and went to work on cruise ships as a naturalist before leaving the biology behind and going full blown tourism and Alaska. I won't say how long ago that was because I don't want to age myself. I've been in the industry for at least a couple decades. And I just love Alaska, and you know, love welcoming people and making people's dreams coming true up here. It's just such a beautiful place to represent. And so it's great. Well, you're like so many of us to pound Alaska in our teens and 20s and just couldn't leave. Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Yeah, it was like no place else coming from Colorado. You know, I have the mountains, but I didn't have the ocean. So now I have the best of both worlds. That's wonderful, great, great explanation of like, how you got the right kind of resemble those comments. Wendy, how about yourself? I'm very curious. Sure. I am the director of tourism marketing for ATA. And I'm one of the newest members to the team. And very excited to be in Alaska and promoting this great state. I've been in marketing for a couple decades as well, but kind of made my way through publishing and working with different developments and in Montana and really had some great clients and got into that with the resort areas as far as Big Sky and West Yellowstone. And so came from that National Park realm and resort areas and got into the tourism part of marketing. And as I tell people, once you're in the tourism marketing realm, and destination marketing, you don't get out of it. It's like you become a family. It's in your blood. And for me just coming from the local CVB level and having this chance to come up and promoted a state level and probably the best state to promote obviously and and being that it's Alaska. So so many different variety of things and diversity in the state. And like Tonya said, we've we love those mountains once you fall in love with the mountains and you can't really go back to the Midwest or anything where we're where we grew up. So it's just part of your blood now and part of the tourism family. So it's you just never leave. So in looking at it, what what your role is you've kind of shared your titles, but what does that really mean? Maybe we'll start off with telling Jana on a day to day client bases type thing. Oh, goodness, there's so much I will say I like to think I have the best job here. I work with all the trade, you know, so that includes UnCruise Adventures, but you know, I work with travel agents, tour operators, cruise lines, airlines. So it's you know, answering emails, answering questions, planning, familiarization tours, so we bring those people to Alaska because that's really the best way to sell it is get those agents and operators to the state so they can see it firsthand, create new itineraries and honestly fall in love with the destination themselves because once you love a destination, you can sell it that much better. Rather than trying to sell With never having been to Alaska, certainly, if you've not been here, you know, don't realize how large of a state it is. And so being able to see it and see what's involved and how long it takes to get to different places, and to really give it the full experience, the time that you want to give each of your destinations, you just want to drive from point A to point B to point C, in a matter of two days. You want to experience what the land has to offer and the attractions and the scenery and the wildlife. And to do that you just want to take time. So putting together together the best itineraries that's what we're here for, to help those people. Yeah, that education is so important. I, I agree with you, people don't realize how big our state really is I back it must have been in 2008 during the banking crisis, and I was even helping answering phones myself and I had a fellow call me and he's all excited to go to Alaska, and he's telling me about his trip. And after I after I finished with you guys in general, I've got a car rent and I'm gonna drive to Anchorage. And of course, there's some problems there. One, it's, you know, by road, it's like 700 to 800 miles away. And two, there's no road to Juneau to Skagway, or Haines and, you know, just it's gonna take more than a day. People just have no idea I often use the example of how, you know if you go all the way from Barrow to the illusions are all the way down to catch Academy. That's far more than the distance between like Seattle and and San Diego, people just don't they just have a hard time grasping maybe it's when they look at a globe, the curve of the Earth makes it seem smaller. Yeah. Maybe. Maybe it's putting us in a box by Hawaii that doesn't? Yeah, well, that'll do it, too. Yeah, we're really much smaller. We're actually someplace in the Gulf of California. floating around. Yeah. And for all of you that are listening, you can understand as as Alaskans, how we need to joke it that a lot, because Alaska can show anywhere on a US map I even saw south of Florida one time. Oh, that's good. So when the same question, I mean, what's the day to day, what's the nuts and bolts of what you do? Well, I get to work with Tanya on the international side. And then I also get to work with on the consumer side. So really, my overarching job description is really providing that inspiration and excitement to start, you're planning to come to Alaska. And so it's, uh, you know, day to day for me, it's, you know, people always say we have the best jobs in the world. And I'm like, Yeah, I love promoting, I love to talk to people. But it's also, you know, we spend a lot of time and a lot of planning and strategy that goes into the campaigns and going through our library and getting assets and picking those pictures and putting together those videos, and, and proofing the copy that goes out on any of our content and our website. And so it's there's a lot of a lot of planning and a lot of numbers that you crunch a lot of data that you look at, you know, trying to identify those markets and put it all together in a cohesive plan that, you know, we understand that our stakeholders understand and that is ultimately the the consumer that catches their eye. And they click on that ad and they come to the website, and they book their trip. Well, I'll ask you to give away on that. Maybe it's not a top secret thing that you could share. But what give me some of the main markets for Alaska within the United States? Yeah, I mean, our top markets, California, the Northwest, not Seattle area. Surprisingly, it's Texas and Florida and New York. Those are kind of our top five big demographic areas. But we see other areas like Chicago and Minneapolis and some of those Western states that also sneak into those top 10 depending on what time of year it is. But yeah, really the West Coast obviously, it's for them travel is easier coming up, but then also the southern states that you know, want to come up and do the cruising, especially and then obviously from there, they get into the interior part of the state. Yeah, that's really true. It is easy for folks from the northwest, but I think it's also for people to realize, you know, a lot of the flights leave from Seattle and you're two hours to Juneau what three and a half to Anchorage are so I mean, it's it's surprising in air miles, how quickly you get there. It's not like going to Europe or something like that. And you're not changing to time zones. Thank goodness, in a big way. You know, just a little bit. Yeah. Yeah. I'll toss a question out to both of you. What is both the hardest challenge that you've had to overcome, you know, in your life personally and professionally? And then the flip side of that, what would you consider your greatest joy in that Oh, goodness, I you know, and fortunately, unfortunately, I would probably say it's very much work really, I mean, I do live for selling Alaska. And that's what I've done for so long. So really, I think one of the hardest challenges that I've had to face was during COVID, with tourism just coming to a complete standstill almost overnight, it was very difficult. We had to cut back on a lot of things on our side. So jobs, so many people were losing their jobs. And it was, it was a very trying time for me. And I know for many people in the industry, but it was the first realization that I had in my life where it's like, my personal being was so much tied to my job. So I, in a way, it was also a positive, it helped me step back and and see what other things there are that I can be doing and spending time in on outside of just work. Not that I work all the time. But such a love that I did have to kind of step back and say what else is there? And fortunately, we do have tourism coming back and things are looking up again. But it gave me a much more I think rounded focus in life. Yeah, for sure. I think there's many of us can put the COVID the pandemic in that toughest period, particularly in the business we all choose to be involved in was certainly challenging. But what specifically in either of you could jump in, what kinds of things does the Alaska tourism industry association provide to a small business? Like UnCruise? How do you help us succeed, that type of thing, we really have, I think, two sides, we have our association sides. So as a membership organization, we're there to fight that really advocate for industry, when different policies come up that may affect our members, we're there to do what we can to ensure that, you know, the impacts are either negligible, or that we can, you know, keep something that may not be best for the industry from from happening. On the marketing side. You know, we're there to help get everybody you know, we have the whole brand of Alaska out there. But we have programs that all of our businesses can partake in, and get their names out to a wider audience, and they may be able to do on their own. Yeah, I know, we participate, for instance, in your lead program. And that's been a valuable piece for us where people inquire to the Alaska tourism industry about Alaska. And they might say, Oh, I'm into adventure travel, or I'm into ship travel or something like this. And that comes as part of our lead package and helps us as a small business reach out to people that may not have found us otherwise. So I'm curious, being that my office is about two and a half blocks from our State Capitol building. And I often I'm up at the Capitol building, listening to funding for the Alaska tourism stories and, and people banging their hands about what's it bringing us in dollars and cents. And is this what we should do? And I mean, what what does Atia bring to the state from a standpoint of you know, the state might put X million dollars into supporting the organization. What does Atia give back to the state of Alaska and its residents. In terms of a return on that, you know, we've looked at travel planners, where we invest that in for like every dollar spent in that we're seeing 300 plus dollars in return on those increasing the visitors to the state. But not only that is bringing in the right visitors that are spending time here and spending money here, which just then increases those the base income for communities that they're able to do so much with in reinvesting in infrastructure and being good stewards of our resources and getting that messaging out there. It's education to the consumer as well. So really, it's you know, you look at dollars and cents, and it's also the jobs that we're creating. And coming back, you know, I think probably this year, hopefully we're gonna hit back that 2019 number. And really, you know, those are sustainable jobs that that people can have year round or introduces people to the state of Alaska and like you said, we come and we never leave. So that's true. Now I can't recall in 2019. So I think we have to look back and because the last few years have been a bit odd. But what what was our industry ranking statewide? Were we two or three statewide as far as the amount of employment and such will be offered you remember Claudia? I'm gonna say we were third. Yeah, yeah, of course oil and gas is right over the top because of the North Slope. Yeah, you Uh, and I think in in different parts of Alaska tourism is the economic driver for, for instance, you know, we here in Georgia we have almost no oil influence directly. But in Anchorage you have a lot of oil businesses based in in Anchorage. So it's a little bit different depending on which community here and tourism overall is a huge, huge factor and becomes more and more important to the small communities, quite frankly. And for those of you that who don't really realize how small Alaska is, we have a population of, you know, plus or minus a few 1000. Around 750,007 42. In any given year in our big city, what do you guys up to in Anchorage show? Fear? So. You know, where I live is hovers between 32 and 33,000. So, yeah, our whole state has a population equal to most major cities are smaller than most major cities, the more 48 but a lot of land 1/5, the size of the lower 48. Which, oh, by the way, folks, if you're listening, and you don't know, Alaska, we don't call it the continental United States. We call it the lower 48. It's because we're the upper one, right. So I have some, some questions about, you know, unique challenges that you're facing right now. And because tiny, I thought you when you were talking and you talked about the challenges of COVID, and the pandemic, and I'm hoping that I'll be talking about that very little in the future, except maybe, in retrospect. Curious about unique challenges facing that Alaska travel industry today, this coming summer, this fall, when we start to close up shop, what are the challenges that you to see for our industry in 2023? Season? I don't know if there's, it's so unique, I think we're seeing the same difficulties that are lower 48 partners are seeing workforce is definitely a huge piece of it, trying to get that back. And, you know, housing for some of that workforce, it definitely it from our perspective and hearing from partners. It's how the how the visitors are traveling, like what travelers are expecting, and just trying to get a good benchmark on when they're booking windows are now some of them. I mean, we're seeing very, we're still seeing shorter booking windows. Even during the winter, people are sometimes like, we were just talking in one of our meetings that partners are seen when their specials on airfare, people are like, oh, let's go and they don't have a plan. And they don't realize how big the state is, like you said, and they get here and it's the shortest day of the season or other things like that. So definitely trying to get a bead on what travelers how they're travelling and what they're expecting and what they want. And, and when they're booking. That's, it's it's a little bit unique, because we're a long haul destination, you don't just, you know, jump on the bus and get there in a couple hours kind of thing. That's true. I think another side that we're going to be seeing with Europe and Asia and everybody opening up, you know, we were one of the top destinations domestically this last year, because so much of the world was still closed. So now, we're competing globally, again, with pent up travel demand. So some of our domestics, we're gonna go overseas, we want to see some of those internationals come here. So a little bit of give and take on on that travel side with global availability. Are you hearing much from members or maybe even experiencing directly in Anchorage employment challenges like we have last year? I haven't heard anything yet. In terms of difficulty more just hitting the hiring season. Yeah, yeah. So what we've talked about, you know what Atia does for businesses like mine and this kind of thing. And we talked about what it does what Atia does for the state. And I'm curious, yeah, you know what you're looking to the past of COVID-19. And then today, how are things coming out? Do you feel like it was last year pretty much away from it, in your opinion, or was still lingering? Do you feel like this year is going to be lingering? From what I could tell last year was a Gangbuster year, people were ready and wanting to come to Alaska? I don't. I don't know if there was really much thought of what happened in the last few years. You know, before they traveled, we still run COVID hotline, and we do get the odd email or phone call if there any restrictions, anything they need to be worried about. But for the most part, people were really just ready to come and ready to partake in adventure and sightseeing and get out of their home. Yeah, it's a I'd like to say I hope it's behind us. But I'm curious. Since I don't get up in the interior during the summer much pretty busy in southeast I'm always curious how it went during in different parts of the industry. Yeah, I think hearing hearing from partners, it's been, it's been a really good season, you know, and I think it was still kind of not knowing what to expect and how people traveled. But, you know, they they pulled together and I think what we were hearing was really good, warm season. And as crews started to fill back in later in the season, you know, I was adjusting to that to where we saw the cruise companies go, Okay, well, let's, let's extend our season by three weeks. And that, you know, got some of our southeast communities kind of kind of going like that was a little bit different. They had to adapt. But I think that's one thing about our industry, too, is we can adapt, we could do it, you know, before the pandemic, and we can do it now. And we can do it better now. But so let's shift gears, and I agree with you totally Wendy, the shift gears a little bit to talk about Alaska herself. And I mean, in your opinion, are there there's what everybody knows. There's Glacier Bay, there's Denali, you know, all these different places you go. But it gives me some of your favorites without maybe giving away your backyard. I don't want you to give away your favorite place. They take data kids or your or your best friend or family members. But what are what are some of the places that aren't known so well to maybe the world that you might share from a place that oh my gosh, if I am an adventure traveler coming to Alaska, I would say you should go here. Yeah, I would for me, let's eat I love Wrangell St. Elias National Park, is it's just a phenomenal location. It is wilderness, Alaska. It is the road less traveled. The sightseeing is great. The the activities there are great. The history is incredible. It's just a great, great location. That is a little harder to get to if you're local I think if the stick and isn't Wrangell St. Elias the largest national park system in the world. Yeah, yep. It is and and part of the UNESCO World Heritage site with you know, Kulani touching Shani and Glacier Bay together. Yes, that's right. It's you actually connect all those together and so I think the largest file preserve on the planet right along with us one in Africa, I think Yeah. mazing that's a lot of land in Glacier Bay alone is 3.1 million acres. Right you take that and add the Canadian side that back in Wrangell St. Elias absolutely massive chunk of land that's preserved. So windy about you and your you have limited time there. But I'm curious so far. What do you what do you find you know, just in our little area there's over 35 likes to get into and fish and so you know snowmobiling into those. We're we're into the winter sport, though. Snow machining and ice fishing and all of that. So we've been able to explore a little bit of that and there's, like I talked about there's waterfalls are popular, there's some great ones that are fairly easy to hike into Alaska, we love our dogs, obviously buy the newest video that's gone viral, that's gateway. So lots of places to get out and snowshoe and ski and, and take differing children like mine. And Tanya, so it's, you know, there's lots of places like that. So, you know, still think we're gonna get out and do some of that, that summer fishing on the ocean and things that we haven't experienced yet. But Lake Louise and fishing and our buyers lake are including the lake and that aren't very far off the beaten path. But people don't think of them because they're going to Denali, or they're going to Fairbanks and Chino, hot springs and all the big things that everybody hits on their itineraries. And we're kind of starting to showcase some of those off the beaten path things a little bit, but that are still easily accessible and are what we call soft adventure. So you don't have to be the hardcore heliskiing you know, you can still still do some of those things. Fires like is so great. I do love that spot. It's beautiful lake. It was like I remember a trip out there was the epitome of like the ultimate calm lake at a group. And just as the guide is talking about, oh, yeah, there are loons on the this week. And as soon as he stopped there was the loon call. Perfect wilderness sound. Key. Yeah. So this was a little off script, but I'm curious. Probably Tanya, from your standpoint, but windy. You've been up here now long enough. I think we get it. What are some of the mistakes that people make when they think they're when they're going to Alaska? And they get up there they go, Oh my gosh, I wish I would have blank. The two top things for me that come to mind are planning. I mean, don't don't come up here, especially in the summer. Well, I think at this point anytime and not have a game plan places to stay, it's getting harder and harder to find lodging or campgrounds if you didn't plan ahead. And the other side of that planning is your clothing what you're packing, if you're coming in the wintertime, you got you know, look at where you're going and pack accordingly. Always dress in layers because we can experience three seasons in a day. Well, we say and in southeast you have to have your slippers extra Well, in the wintertime, we pretty much where I'm with Microspikes over the top pretty much right time we're in town because it's always icy snow mix, it seems like in general. Yeah, a lot of good things to know. What are your thoughts on that? Tonya hit it on the head. It's really like and you mentioned earlier how big our state is just realizing, I think when you look at a map, or you look at the Globe, and it's as the crow flies, flies, it doesn't look that far. But really, it's it takes hours, we we have family coming up this summer, and my husband said oh, they're gonna go here one day, and here the next day and I went time out, you realize even from where we are, it's four hours just to the entrance of Denali. It's five or six hours down to Homer and, you know, and that's with no traffic or anything like that. And you're here peak season with all the other travelers. So yeah, really, really knowing your time, like you can't see the whole state and even a week or two weeks, it's just, it's so massive. And there's so every region is so different. And just like you were alluding to earlier, it's not just getting in your car and driving from x to z, it's you know, you have to plan I think that is so true. And you know, we occasionally Most of the clients, we we have understand that travel, particularly in a destination like Alaska, that is, like you said, Tanya planning ahead. Like you're pointing out, Wendy being willing to if it's a five hour drive plan all day, partly because there's so much you're gonna find along the way. But we have a lot of people feel that they can come to a destination once and see it. And I have always been an advocate of saying, no, no, start with one section of Alaska. And then you're going to fall in love and come back and do a different section the next time. And I think that's proven to be, you know, kind of the elixir for people that that are really truly Alaska's client, the type of person that's going to come back and again, the fact that we're two to three and a half hours air travel from Seattle, makes it so easy to come up multiple times. Yeah, I'm a big supporter of slow down, smell the roses, you know, slow down a little too fast. But also, absolutely enjoy it. I mean, you're here for the experience. And that's what it's about. And if you don't slow down and stop and pull out and see what's going on, you miss it. That's right. But I'm curious, from each of you, maybe some closing thoughts to people that might be listening and considering coming to Alaska, maybe some words of wisdom and encouragement, and just things that will help them make that decision to come to what the three of us believe is one of the most wonderful spots places on planet Earth. There's something for everybody in Alaska, I always hear, you know, the couples where it's like, well, you know, it's been my husband's dream, I'm just going to tag along. But then they go home. And both of them are in love with Alaska, right? So they found that, you know, sure he wanted to go maybe fishing or he wanted to go look at bears, but she found just as much in the scenery or the hiking opportunities, or you know, dog sledding. I mean, we have so much to offer that there really is something for everybody, every generation, young to old. And it's it really is just a place that when you come you can't help fall in love with it. Yeah, we're destination for everybody. Absolutely. I think that's a biggest thing is we welcome everybody. There's an adventure for every skill level, you know, family and those plus and really, I think, to people even they think Alaska, they think it's cold year round. They think it's dark year round, and we're not, you know, last June, we're up on a glacier. So it's, you know, it's things like that where you can experience those different climates almost in a day and things like that. So like Tonya said, there's there is something for everybody up here and can you just make the experience your own? Yeah, really true. I think that the joy about bringing families to Alaska, the multi generational generational travel is we in the industry call it is that whether they're on lifeboats or whether they're, you know, visiting an anchorage or whatever, there's so many different things for the whole family to do. It's not like being locked into one mode of travel where you only do this or that. Yeah. Well, ladies, thank you for joining us. And from the bottom of my heart, thank you, for everything you do for Alaska. And for UnCruise Adventures, we feel your presence, whether you know it or not. And for all of you listening in, it's been great. We've learned about some great things in Alaska, some hidden away spots for our friends that were up from Anchorage today on the on the interview. And we've also learned what an association of small businesses can do to promote the largest state in the nation with one of the smallest populations of the nation to the rest of the world. And I think that speaks very loudly to when we lock arms together as a people, and we decide we want to do something, we can be successful. And that is the Alaska Tourism Industry Association, which I've been a member of since I was a young man. So I think those are valuable takeaways here. I also think big valuable takeaways is you know, to Alaska, slow problems slow. embed yourself when you can in an area region of Alaska. And I think what you'll find is that the greater joy of travel will reach you. I'm excited to talk to these two wonderful ladies because they are representing my state, my industry. And at the bottom end of the day. They're representing my heart and soul what I love, so thank you all for attending the spin Dan Blanchard kept it down Blanchard owner, CEO and chief bottle washer of UnCruise Adventures with no ordinary adventure. Thank you