More Boats, More People, More Money: Growth in the cruise market and other segments boost Alaska's tourism industry.

Author:Barbour, Tracy

For twenty-one years, Alaskan Tour Guides has been helping tourists make once-in-a-lifetime memories. The company, owned by Bob and Doreen Toller, specializes in small-group land tours that take people to places large companies normally can't go. "We go places they can't access with their big motor coaches ... There's no crowd, and you get to see the real Alaska," Bob Toller says.

With its modern, thirteen-passenger vans, Alaskan Tour Guides takes groups on up-close adventures led by year-round residents with engaging stories to tell about living in Alaska. The Wasilla-based business runs tours from Fairbanks to Homer, with Kenai Fjords and Denali National Parks being popular destinations. Its customers can see amazing vistas, watch incredible wildlife, and indulge in unique activities like gold panning, dog sledding, and exploring glaciers. "Our trips are a little bit more expensive than the cruise ship tours, but you get ten times more," Toller says.

About 90 percent of Alaskan Tour Guides' clients are from the Lower 48, with the rest mostly coming from Australia and India. Baby Boomers--and others wanting to avoid large crowds--are especially keen on its personal and customized tours. As a testament to this, the company boasts high ratings and a 2018 Certificate of Excellence from Tripadvisor. Consequently, Alaskan Tour Guides has been experiencing a consistent increase in business. "We've shown steady growth for the last five years; we've added a couple of vans in the last two years," Toller explains.

Currently, Alaskan Tour Guides has six vans that transport about eighty people each day. The company does approximately 100 land tours annually, in addition to its family tours, cruise transfer tours, and other transportation options.

Rise in Cruise Ship Visitors

The growth that Alaskan Tour Guides is experiencing is due, in part, to the steady increase in tourists visiting Alaska. It's also reflective of the overall growth that's taking place in different segments of Alaska's tourism industry, including the cruise industry and transportation. Record anticipated numbers of cruise ship visitors will be a bright spot in 2020, according to the January 2020 of Alaska Economic Trends magazine, published by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. "Tourism numbers keep reaching new heights, and 2020 is expected to break another record with an anticipated 6 percent jump in cruise ship passengers," according to Alaska Economic Trends.

This projection doesn't surprise Sarah Leonard, president and CEO of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. "The cruise industry is our fastest-growing sector," she says. "Passenger volume was up 6.5 percent last year."

Leonard points out that the 6 percent increase expected for cruise ship passengers this year is not just for southeast Alaska, where most of the itineraries for cruise ships go. It will also impact cross-gulf travel. "That traffic was up 15.3 percent in 2019," she says.

The growth of the tourism industry has a broad impact on...

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