With cruise ship travel to Alaska in question this summer, two of the state's biggest players, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises, recently said they would offer lodging and land-only tours in the state. The Carnival Corp. sister lines have both offered land tours in Alaska for decades using their extensive network of lodging and tour assets, including the Princess Alaska Lodges, Holland America Line Westmark Hotels and Gray Line Alaska tours. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke with Charlie Ball, executive vice president of land operations for the Holland America Group, which includes Princess, Holland America and Seabourn and their Alaska land operations, about the decision to offer a season of land programs with or without a cruise season.
Q: What were the main reasons for running your Alaska land programs this year, even with your cruise-tour program canceled and the cruise season in question?
A: Alaska is part of the heritage of both Princess and Holland America Line. It is also the most cruise-dependent economy in the U.S. We recognize how our absence creates real challenges for local economies and our own staff. By offering this lineup, we are able to keep our team working and help our community partners in the heart of Alaska by providing some much-needed tourism revenue to help them through another difficult year.
Q: Was there indication from Princess and Holland America guests that they would be interested in doing land-only programs this year?
A: I was getting calls regularly from agents and Alaskans encouraging us to try to put something together. There is great interest in the land offering as people are wanting to travel when it's safe.
Q: Do you expect to attract the same customers that would have done a cruise or cruise tour, or a different market segment that would normally prefer a land-only Alaska tour?
A: We imagine there will be some of each. Our lodges are popular spots for visitors of all sorts, especially in the shoulder season, and Denali is always a tremendous, iconic destination. As we all know, there is a pent-up demand for travel. People have stayed close to home, and those who are ready to travel and experience the beauty of Alaska will be attracted to these land packages.
Q: In a normal year, what percentage of your guests that book land tours also take cruises?
A: A large number of lodge guests come from the ships. Normally, our land-package business is a small part of the total number of cruise guests. The combination of cruising the fjords of Southeast Alaska and then coming ashore to visit Denali and the heart of Alaska is so very popular that we basically fill the lodges with these guests.
Q: Will you run the same number of tours and lodges as you normally do?
A: No, we are not opening all of our lodges -- the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel & Conference Center is currently open. Additional properties will open for guests May 28 to Sept. 6, including Holland America Line's McKinley Chalet Resort at Denali National Park and Preserve and the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge overlooking the world-famous Kenai River.
Q: Will you work with travel advisors and pay commission on your land and tour bookings?
A: Yes, we are working with travel advisors and paying a 10% commission.