Travel Weekly's assistant managing editor of custom
publishing, Joe Manuelli, visited Alaska and Canada's Yukon
Territory on a 12-day Holland America Line-Westours trip last
summer. His report follows:
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The profile of the Alaska tourist
People no longer wait until their golden years before visiting
the 49th state. Baby boomers have discovered the place. Now, people
are vacationing in the Great Land earlier in their lives.
Catering to this younger set, Holland America Line-Westours has
been developing itineraries with an emphasis on soft adventure
My Denali Gold Rush tour, which kicked off with a three-night
Statendam cruise from Vancouver, was one of 35 products in the
operator's 50th anniversary catalog for 1997. The 1998 schedule is
a repeat of this year's, and the firm has added escorted tours to
its Yukon itineraries.
There are two basic tour classifications. One is known as the
Gold Rush product and includes Canada's Yukon Territory, whose
Klondike gold triggered an unprecedented stampede of prospectors a
century ago. The other is called Great Land tours. These combine a
cruise with an all-Alaska land package.
All but two of Holland America-Westours' itineraries feature the
immensely popular Denali National Park.
Because of the great distances and travel time involved in
Alaska/Yukon touring, agents should note that daily departures
often are early in the morning. And itineraries can be tighter than
those of a standard cruise product, permitting little room for
Most North Country destinations I visited showed evidence of
tourism growth. Every overnight stop we visited -- Juneau, Skagway,
Whitehorse, Dawson, Fairbanks, Denali and Anchorage -- featured at
least one new attraction.
Although growth is often attributed to the increasing number of
ships funneling travelers into the state, retailers should note
that cruise industry discounting also was a factor last spring, as
it has been for several years.
As HAL and other Alaska operators begin to tap the developing
baby-boomer market, they increasingly find themselves discovering
or, in many cases, developing new tourism amenities.
Encouraged by increased visitor levels, federal authorities in
both the U.S. and Canada are becoming critical components in
attraction development, finding themselves in the midst of an
explosion of tourism-based construction.
Realizing the value of the Gold Rush legacy (1998 will be the
100th anniversary of the stampede), more than a half-dozen
government-supported renovation projects are being undertaken
between Skagway, in southeast Alaska, and Dawson, in the Yukon.
In Skagway, the paint still is drying on National Park Service
projects that include renovations of the cabin of that town's
founder, William Moore, and additions to its visitor center.
Parks Canada is actively developing projects in Carcross, Yukon
Territory, where in the winter and early spring of 1898, those who
successfully transported their provisions over steep mountain
passes began building boats for the downriver trip to the
Among the projects are a new geological museum in Whitehorse and
numerous restorations in Dawson. Dawson, the final destination of
those original stampeders, retains a number of the original
structures from its turn-of-the-century, gold-fueled building
Overall, there are few tourism destinations where government and
private industry seem to be so much in sync. In Skagway, I saw the
results of the greatest construction boom since the town was
Word along the main street of Broadway is that at least 15 new
retailers opened shops this year. This town probably is neck and
neck with Juneau as a cruiser's shopping mecca.
(For better or worse, tiny Skagway now has some favorite stores
of Caribbean ports of call, Little Switzerland and Columbia
In other developments, Holland America Line-Westours introduced
a comprehensive gold-dredge attraction near Fairbanks, is making
improvements to its Westmark Fairbanks hotel and is beefing up its
Gold Rush product line.
HAL-Westours already had funded improvements for the University
of Fairbanks museum and fostered the development of a
breeding-stock farm (the misnamed Yukon Wildlife Preserve) on the
outskirts of Whitehorse.
Despite the fact that this exclusive attraction for HAL visitors
figured in a controversial advertising battle with archrival,
Princess Tours, the views of penned-in native animals were a big
hit with the vacationers on our tour.
And, for the vast, remote Yukon Territory, HAL-Westours wisely
has developed this attraction as a welcome break from long
stretches of motorcoach travel. In the future, it seems certain,
some of the HAL-owned land operations also will offer entertainment
New visitors to Alaska may be surprised by the plethora of
evening entertainment available on cruise-tour agendas, apart from
on-board shows. Vaudeville is alive and well in the North Country,
in a number of small theaters and saloons.
Many of the skits are based on historical characters such as
Skagway's legendary outlaw Soapy Smith, Dawson's saloon dancer
Diamond Tooth Gertie and the Klondike's Bard of the North, Robert
Service. Others playfully poke fun at such revered institutions as
the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Another trend includes the addition of dogsled racing exhibits
by operators serving the summer trade. Iditarod and Yukon Quest
winners and their dog teams are featured at the Riverboat Discovery
operation in Fairbanks and by Aramark Leisure Services, the company
that has tours and lodging facilities inside Denali National Park.
Just outside Anchorage, the little town of Knik is fast becoming
known as the home of the Sled Dog Musher's Hall of Fame.