On Site at the Alaska Media Roadshow

The annual Alaska Media Roadshow rolled into New York City two weeks ago, and Travel Agent was on hand to pick up as much news as we could from the more than 40 operators that flew in from the Great State for the show. Here's what we got:  A rendering of the Alaska Queen from Alaska Travel Adventures

Alaskatours.com, the ground operator for Abercrombie & Kent until this year, is looking to move product directly to consumers and travel agents. This is a big change for the previously behind-the-scenes company that has contracts with some 400 vendors around the state. The Ketichikan Visitors Bureau said work is progressing on a new cruise ship dock that will be ready for the 2007 season. Only two boats can dock now; the new dock will make it three.

Interestingly, Patti Mackey says that "there are quite a lot of reputable operators in Ketchikan that are looking to work with agents on a pre-book basis...There is so much tour product in Ketichikan, we're not filling capacity."

Sometime in January, the bureau will publish a list of willing operators agents can contact. Also, Mackey touted a new "eagle visitors area" to open in 2007 at the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary. Staying in Ketichikan, Alaska Travel Adventures will debut an "authentic steam-powered" paddle boat, the Alaska Queen, in 2007 that will make two 1/2-hour narrated cruises around Ketichikan's wateways. Call (800) 791-2673 to make reservations.

Chugach Adventure Guides opened a lodge 50 miles due west of Anchorage last winter. The company runs helicopter ski tours, for high-end clients there and in Girwood, 40 miles south of Anchorage. Score 15 percent commissions on this innovative product that takes skiers to the top of pristine ski runs with no ski lift.

From the Alaska Travel Industry Association, we learned that the organization just went live with an on-line training program that schools agents on tips for selling Alaska. Visit www.travelalaska.com to take a peek at how to become a Certified Alaska Expert.

We liked what we heard from Stillpoint in Halibut Cove. Opened just three years ago and located less than an hour ferry ride from Homer, it sounds like a good bet for clients with a new-age or spiritual sensibility. Proprietors Jan and Jim Thurston infuse the lodge experience with elements like yoga and thai chi.

Ask about the MeditationBuilding. "It's a great place for people to taste silence," says Jan Thurston. While you're at it, ask Thurston about water color lessons; she's formerly president of the Alaska Watercolors Society.

Skagway Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue takes the award for the best (and most colorful) sales pitch. The Hemingway-lookalike wowed us with descriptions like the one he rendered on behalf of the long-standing—and bawdy—Red Onion Saloon, or as locals refer to it, "The R.0."

"That's the best place in Skagway to get a drink. You can learn how to dance on your lips there," he says.

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But from Donahue came more than just colorful aphorisms. When asked what's new in Skagway, the rep didn't miss a beat. "Culinary," he says. "We finally have more than a few greasy spoons."

Indeed, now complementing the Stowaway Café (which opened in 1999) is the Starfire Café. The restaurant is competing for one of very prestigious James Beard Foundation culinary awards.

Donahue recommends the bordello tour, where buxom women conduct clients along an upstairs tour of the old bordello portion of the premises for $5. For another $10, they'll extend the tour to the rest of the old houses of the ill repute in the neighborhood. (As if it needed to be said, none are still operating!)

Pearson's Lodge in Juneau does a brisk wedding business and will be featured on the Learning Channel's Extreme Weddings program on Feb. 14, 2007. The lodge does about 55 weddings a year, half of which are held on top of a nearby glacier. Owner Dianne Pearson is a marriage commissioner (she can officiate at the ceremony) and a certified wedding planner.

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