It’s shaping up to be another strong year for Alaska tourism, with record-setting cruise numbers on tap and a number of land-based wilderness cabin and tour products on offer. Travel Agent recently attended the Alaska Media Roadshow in The Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa to get the latest tips travel agents should keep in mind. 

This past November saw the launch of the new Alaska Collection by Pursuit. The product of a merger between Alaska Denali Travel and CATC Alaska Tourism Corporation, the combined adventure travel company offers a number of attractions, lodges and tours in Denali National Park & Preserve and Kenai Fjords National Park

This year, the Alaska Collection by Pursuit is debuting a number of updates to its wilderness lodges, as well as rolling out new logos and marketing materials. The cabins at the Denali Backcountry Lodge have received a facelift, while the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge has received new solar panels. 

Good for agents to know: Collection officials say that the newly combined company has commission policies aligned with Alaska Denali Travel, paying 10 percent on owned products and 5 percent on non-owned products. Additionally, the company has maintained an Alaska-based call center, and while some consultants work remotely, all of them hail from Alaska. 

Another collection of wilderness lodges, The Waterfall Group, is offering 10 percent commission. Participating properties include the 52-acre Waterfall Resort Alaska, which can host up to 92 guests in a converted salmon cannery, and the smaller Steamboat Bay Fishing Club in the Tongass National Forest, which can host 16 guests in The Lodge and eight in The Residence. 

Cruise lines, too, are rolling out new wilderness products. At the Roadshow, Princess Cruises debuted its treehouse at the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. Constructed on an episode of the hit Animal Planet show “Treehouse Masters,” as part of the line’s Discovery Communications partnership, the 500-square-foot venue will host a number of events themed around the area’s history and ecology, and will be available to guests on Princess Cruises cruisetours, enabling them to see the south face of Denali from over the trees after a short hike. Programming planned for summer 2018 includes a talk on the Sourdough Expedition, the first successful ascent of Denali, combined with hikes around the area plus hot cocoa and donuts at the treehouse summit; a tasting of rare birch syrups and other tree-inspired products; and an Alaska-themed trivia contest. 

Holland America Line has also debuted a new Denali Square complex at its McKinley Chalet Resort in Denali National Park. Line representatives tell Travel Agent that the new complex serves as an area for guests to gather during their stay at the property, where they can check out a new restaurant with views of the mountain, an amphitheater for lectures and shows, and an artist-in-residence cabin.

New Tours

John Hall’s Alaska is offering a number of tours aimed at helping travelers see the Northern Lights. In winter, the eight-day Alaska’s Winter Wonders itinerary has multiple opportunities for Aurora-viewing, as well as a visit to a sled dog kennel, a tour of the Denali Brewing Company, and explorations of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Denali and Talkeetna. Guests will also spend a day skiing or snowmobiling at Alyeska Resort. The 10-day land / seven-day sea Three Bears of Alaska tour combines a cruise onboard the Celebrity Millennium with the opportunity to travel onboard the Alaska Railroad to Fairbanks to see the Northern Lights. John Hall’s Alaska offers travel agents 5 percent commission on the total package price. 

Also this winter, the Alaska Railroad continued to emphasize its Aurora Winter Train, which travels weekends between Anchorage and Fairbanks from late September through mid-May and this year increased midweek departures from late February through March. The railroad is also continuing to refine its onboard dining experience, with a particular focus on local ingredients and options for guests who have specific dietary requirements, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. 

This spring, UnCruise Adventures launched seven new land-based packages that will offer guests a chance to add a four- or five-night land itinerary to their cruise via a new partnership with Alaska Alpine Adventures. The packages, which are available for bookings beginning this month, will explore Anchorage, Girdwood, Seward and the Kenai Fjords National Park. 

A new treehouse will offer Princess Cruises guests panoramic views of Denali National Park.

In Seward, glacier kayaking company Liquid Adventures is offering a new, guided sea kayaking trip to the Northwestern Fjord. The Aialik/Northwestern Explorer will give visitors the chance to paddle where conditions are best that day. 

Hotel, Destination Updates

Alaska’s cities are debuting new hotel product as well. In Anchorage, a 144-room Hyatt House opened last May in Midtown, followed by a rebranded 84-room La Quinta. The 370-room Sheraton Anchorage is set to complete a top-to-bottom guestroom, restaurant and lobby renovation this spring. 

Skagway has opened the new Skagway Spirits Distillery. The family-run business offers tastings and hands-on drink-making experiences. The city has also opened the Skagway Escape Room, its first such attraction, which draws inspiration from the destination’s Gold Rush history to take guests on a train adventure into the Yukon. Two miles across the water, the Burro Creek Lodge Waterfall Retreat hosts a day excursion to explore the back country surrounding the lodge, as well as a crab and shrimp boil upon guests’ return. 

Cruise Updates

This year’s cruise season also looks to be another record-setter, with CLIA Alaska projecting 7 percent growth. An estimated 1.165 million passengers will sail Alaskan waters in 2018, topping the previous record of just over 1 million, set in 2008. 

American Cruise Lines will be offering eight- and 15-day itineraries on its new ship, the American Constellation, doubling its capacity in the region. 

Windstar Cruises is launching a Windstar Signature Expeditions program on its Star Legend sailings this spring and summer, in which experts will sail with guests on each cruise, leading classes and excursions on glaciology, photography, marine biology and other disciplines. 

Looking ahead to 2019, Cunard has announced a new partnership with Rocky Mountaineer to offer pre- and post-cruise tours. The itineraries will include either three or five nights’ accommodation and two full days aboard the train, exploring the Canadian Rockies, the Continental Divide, Kicking Horse Canyon, Spiral Tunnels and Hell’s Gate in the Fraser Canyon. The new rail itineraries will be combinable with Cunard’s 2019 Alaska cruises, which will mark the line’s return to Alaskan waters. 

Azamara Club Cruises has also joined forces with Rocky Mountaineer on pre- and post-cruise itineraries for select Azamara Alaska voyages in 2019.

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