How to Sell Alaska

Recently Travel Agent got a chance to attend a press trip to Alaska as the state's tourism climbed to record heights following the Great Recession. All week we'll be running a special report on selling the state, from top sales tips and trends to what's new for the upcoming winter season.

Far from the lower 48, Alaska poses some unique challenges when it comes to qualifying clients and planning an itinerary. We rounded up some quick tips to bear in mind.

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“Alaska is definitely one of those destinations where people come because of the beautiful scenery and wildlife,” says Kathy Dunn, tourism marketing manager for the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development for Alaska. “They refer to Alaska sometimes as ‘The Last Frontier’—it’s a big adventure.”

What constitutes a big adventure can be different depending on the client’s interests and fitness level, says Dunn. Alaska tends to draw an older clientele. Since the state began tracking tourism statistics in 1985, the average age of a visitor has remained relatively constant, increasing slightly from 50 years old to 50.7 years old.

Old and young clients approach the concept of adventure differently, says Dunn. While younger clients may be focused on going out hiking in the middle of nowhere, for an older client, even staying on a more developed trail can be like an adventure.

“For example, I had family members visiting this year that ranged from their mid-40s to mid-80s,” Dunn says. “They wanted to get into Denali, but they were on a time-limited schedule. So we had a group go up on a flightseeing trip, which is a great way to get a perspective on the park when they don’t have time to stay in it.”

Even a low-impact hike can be considered an adventure. // Photo by Adam Leposa

When sending groups to Alaska, agents should be careful to ensure that multiple activities are available to please guests of different outdoor fitness levels, says Marcella Bettis, director of sales and marketing for the Waterfall Group, which owns two fly-in luxury fishing lodges in the state.

“At our lodges we get a lot of agents who are interested in buyouts,” Bettis says. “And a lot of our activities revolve around fishing, which raises the question, ‘What does grandma do?’”

To manage clients of multiple activity levels, it’s important to work with the property to set up custom activities that will appeal to all guests. “This way the agent comes out being the hero,” Bettis says.

Alaska is typically a long-planned vacation. // Photo by Adam Leposa

Managing an Alaska Itinerary

Since Alaska is a fair trek from the lower 48, it is more popular for long-planned getaways.

“Alaska is one of those trips that people think about for a long time,” says Dunn. “There’s a real draw for people, and a lot of times people may think about it for a couple of years before they actually make the trip. They save up their vacation days so that instead of just a week, they can do a week and a half or two weeks.”

When planning an Alaska trip on a limited schedule, it is important to help clients hone in on the experiences that are most important to them, says Dunn.

“In our collateral, we have suggested itineraries so people can see, ‘Ok, if I only have seven days, what can I do in those seven days,’” says Dunn.

Distance is an important factor to bear in mind when booking Alaska. The scenic drive from Anchorage to Seward is over 100 miles. // Photo by Adam Leposa

One important point to bear in mind: remember the distance between stops on the itinerary. Alaska is a large state, and it is easy for clients who aren’t familiar with the territory to try to cram too much into a single vacation. If clients are limited on time, it may be helpful to focus on exploring one or two regions in depth, rather than trying to cover the whole state, says Dunn.

“I’ve seen people who say, ‘We’ll go fishing on the Kenai Peninsula and then pop up to Fairbanks for dinner’—you can’t fully experience both in one day!” says Dunn. “Make sure you’ve planned enough time to spend in each community and find out what makes it special.”

Taking advantage of floatplane service can be a good way to get clients to remote destinations quickly, while also providing a unique opportunity to see the state.

“We offer floatplane flights out of Ketchikan directly to [our lodges] Steamboat Bay Fishing Club and Waterfall Resort,” says Bettis. Direct flights are available from Seattle into Ketchikan.

Alaska is also enjoying some time in the public eye with a reality TV presence through shows like HGTV’sLiving Alaska.”

“I think [the show] is a positive portrayal of Alaska. With all reality TV shows, there’s no real way to tie it with increased visitation overall,” says Dunn. “But our feeling is that every time Alaska is in front of the general public, then at least people are thinking of Alaska.”

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