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Staying Hot in AlaskaMarch 5, 2007 By: Jennifer Merritt Travel Agent
How one tour company has kept business strong for more than three decades
This year, wilderness travel and education company Alaska Discovery enters its 35th year, having survived despite its short booking season and lack of luxury travel options. Now, as Alaska Discovery faces increasing competition from cruise lines entering the region, the company has decided to remain true to its rugged and sustainable tourism roots, using those angles to get travelers off ships and onto the mainland.
"The cruise companies are very smart to take on some of
the active images of kayaking and walking on glaciers in
Nadia Le Bon, director of polar and special programs for Mountain Travel Sobek,
which bought Alaska Discovery in 2000 but retained the brand.
All major cruise lines, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean
and Princess, offer
itineraries that have shore excursions. "In reality, you pay extra for
them and it is an add-on for many cruises," says Le Bon. "It's not
the same if you went out for a week in the wilderness and experienced it
firsthand." That firsthand experience becomes more important as global
warming takes its toll on
landscape. "It's been hit five to 10 times more than any other part of the
country in terms of climate change," she says, "so I think it's
important for people to see it soon and in an authentic way."
From the beginning, Alaska Discovery touted itself as a
pioneer of sustainable tourism and that concept is still integral to the
company today. "The idea of Alaska Discovery was always to tread
lightly," Le Bon says. "The people who started Alaska Discovery were
real preservationists and when they sold it, they did it to spend more time
Alaska Discovery got its start when Chuck Horner, a
state's Admiralty Island from deforestation was to show people the landscape,
as well as the bears, bald eagles and
black-tailed deer that were at stake should the cutting have taken place. In
1972, Horner's camping trips became a business, and, in 1980,
This commitment to ecotourism is just one way Alaska
Discovery plans to compete against the more profitable cruise ships. The
company is a founding member of the Alaska Conservation Foundation and also
asks guests to participate in its "Dollar A Day" program by
contributing one dollar for each day of the trip, which is then donated to
different Alaskan ecological organizations.
At the request of customers, Alaska Discovery has softened
some of its itineraries by increasing the numbers of trips that are
lodge-based. In brochures, the company emphasizes the uniqueness of the
experiences that can only be had on land. "These are very specialized
wilderness trips that we run," Le Bon says. "We transfer you by small
plane and helicopter and goods have to be transported ahead of time. I just
went on a 12-day wilderness river trip and 11 days out of 12 we didn't see a
soul. For the entire summer, maybe 150 people run that river." Le Bon
admits that trips are fairly expensive, about $3,500 per person, including tour
guide, food and use of rafts and other equipment, due to
through August. "The cruise companies can offset that by doing other
cruises the rest of the year," Le Bon says.
Alaska Discovery's offerings include expeditions on the
sea-kayaking glacier adventures and inn-to-inn hiking and multi-sport trips.
Tours operate in national parks, so rules for camping,
kayaking and other activities are pretty strict in order to preserve the land.
Trips also require physical preparation on the part of the traveler, as
everything is carried individually. You might think it would be hard to find
clients interested in such rugged trips, but consider that Alaska Discovery has
been in business for 35 years. "Our trips are basic and remote," Le
Bon admits, "but it's an absolutely amazing experience."
Information for Agents
Web site: www.alaskadiscovery.com Agent liaison: Eileen Murphy, ext. 6046
Commission: 10 percent