People visit Alaska with a vision: mountains, glaciers, wildlife. But they usually don’t have a specific city in mind, which is why “packaging destinations and activities for Alaska is so important,” said Jesse Carlstrom, tourism manager for the state’s tourism marketing program.
Because the state has only 700,000 residents, the Alaskan tourism community is “almost like family,” Carlstrom said, and “almost all of the tourism veterans in Alaska realize that guests aren’t just coming for the specific community or attraction; they realize the benefit of packaging and partnering with their colleagues down the street.”
State staff and local CVBs collaborate to develop itineraries, and sometimes local agencies can tell state reps why certain trips may look good on paper but won’t work operationally, Carlstrom said. Itineraries are “hugely important to tour operators,” he said, because navigating Alaska’s vast space and millions of acres of wilderness “is not the typical destination.”
“For a lot of tour operators and visitors, it’s not something they’ve really experienced before,” he said. “The itineraries provided by all of the folks really help travel professionals get a sense of what they can do, what their guests can do in a certain amount of time.”
A handful of sample itineraries on the state’s website give tour operators a sense of what groups can accomplish in seven days, “then we can get more specific based on what the tour operator requests,” he said.
One sample trip starts in Fairbanks, then winds down the Alaska Highway where guests can pan for gold, cruise a river or visit a native art village. Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska’s two largest cities, are often paired as the start or finish for tours or fam trips.
The Alaska Travel Industry Association, which the state contracts to provide tourism services, also organizes an annual convention to bring together the state’s group travel and tourism players, and ATIA routinely brings in speakers to discuss the benefits of packaging statewide or regional tours, Carlstrom said.
Many companies and agencies have created regional marketing alliances, such as Latitude Alaska and Alaska Holiday: A Marketing Alliance, to pool their resources and further their outreach and cross-selling efforts.
Many times, group tour operators already know where they want to go, what they want to do and what they want to see — or at least have a pretty good idea. That’s why the South Dakota Department of Tourism works with local agencies across the state to develop itineraries but, in the end, leaves the final trip up to the tour operator, said trade sales representative Vicky Engelhaupt.
The state requests itineraries from different regions, communities and local agencies and updates the packaged trips to make sure they’re always current, Engelhaupt said. She also puts together a familiarization trip for group tour operators each year, usually in the spring, and reaches out to the state’s partner communities to find out what areas and attractions they would like to showcase during the fam.
Many of the itineraries on the travel professionals page of the state’s website are regional tours, but others cross the entire state. Engelhaupt said the Black Hills trip is popular because it runs east to west across the state and includes many national parks and monuments, such as Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Jewel Cave and Wind Cave.
However, the state and its local partners offer itineraries as “suggestions” because many tour operators already have an idea of what they want to do — and that’s where the state’s fam tours “become a great help as well,” Engelhaupt said.
“They can see it for themselves and experience it and pick what is most important to them,” she said.
The South Dakota Department of Tourism also works with its American Bus Association and NTA members to organize delegations to attend trade shows and put out an annual statewide marketing piece in national magazines.