HAL: Clients lean on agents in choosing tours


ABOARD THE AMSTERDAM -- "Even a cheap vacation [to Alaska] costs a lot, so you need to offer clients the best opportunity to see what they came to see," said Paul Allen, vice president of Alaska marketing and sales for Holland America Line.

That means, for one thing, ensuring clients have enough time at popular sites to do what they want to do, he said.

But Allen acknowledged that the 49th and largest U.S. state is not all that well known to many agents and that helping clients choose from among all the tour packages that crisscross the Last Frontier can be a challenge.

However, he told the agents in HAL's Centurion Club (the line's top 100 producers) the process becomes easier if agents recognize that Alaska's ground packages fit into three basic types, what he called the Dawson, the Highway and the Gulf.

Central to the first category are sites related to the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th century; for the second, the key element is the Alaska-Canada Highway coupled with beefed-up attention to the wilderness; the third refers to the glaciers and other top cruising attractions.

Breathtaking glaciers are a perennial favorite attraction for cruise passengers on an Alaska voyage. In HAL's 2003 brochure, the three tour categories are dubbed Great Land Klondike, Great Land Wilderness and Glacier Discovery, respectively.

Holland America Tours also packages land-only plans, which can be categorized in the same way.

Allen offered additional pointers to assist agents in convincing clients to buy Alaska tours and, perhaps more importantly, in helping customers choose the best specific itineraries to match their interests.

He urged his audience to get acquainted with the glaciers by name and location (see chart below) to better ensure that clients get the kind of at-sea sightseeing experience they desire.

Also, for clients interested in wildlife, he said, it is important to know that the National Park Service offers two itineraries in Denali National Park, but one is better; he said there have been 71% more animal sightings on the six-hour Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour than on the three-hour Denali Natural History Tour, which doesn't cover as much animal habitat.

The longer option is on 27 of HAL's 31 itineraries for 2003; the shorter, quick-hit options for seeing Alaska are also in the brochure, Allen said, not because he likes them but because there is a demand for them.

Throughout his presentation, Allen repeated that travel agents should ensure their clients spend enough time in Alaska to not only see but do what they want.

He said, "Our bet is that people are coming not just to watch Alaska go by out of the [cruise ship's] window but to get out in it."

And getting out there, to Allen, means "allowing time in the great places to do cool stuff."

That's why the line's cruise-tours this year emphasized two-night stays in Denali rather than only one night, and next year's 31 programs include 15 with the Double Denali feature, up from 10 this year.

Following on its success with the Double Denali option, the line for 2003 added second nights in several other popular sites, and the brochure emphasizes this feature with an "Extra Day" icon when appropriate.

The Double Denali success also was one reason for introducing an option for 2003 -- visits to Kluane National Park in Canada's Yukon Territory -- which is available in four itineraries.

HAL launches park program

WHITEHORSE, Yukon Territory -- Holland America next year will become the first line to offer packaged tour components to Canada's Kluane National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site that encompasses five of North America's seven highest mountains.

Paul Allen, HAL's vice president of Alaska marketing and sales, said the line aimed to create something that addresses the wishes of clients who want to spend time in out-of-the-way places.

He said HAL worked with Parks Canada to develop exclusive programs that will be featured on four HAL cruise-tour itineraries. In this region, he said, clients will have several activity choices, many with a Parks Canada guide.

Options include hiking -- "sometimes into a bear habitat," Allen said -- mountain biking, flightseeing, fishing, horseback riding and rafting.

To a certain extent, he said, the line hopes to lure younger clients with these and other cruise-tour enhancements. -- N.G.

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