Locals play tourist for less

Tour operators find local discounts are good business

Posted: Tuesday, May 30, 2000

People travel from all over the world to see Alaska and they pay top price for the experience.

But with only five months in the tourist season, many tour operators are catering to locals and their visitors by offering tours and trips at a substantial discount.

``We offer a standard 10 percent discount to locals on any of our trips,'' said Sue Warner of Alaska Discovery, a company that offers guided wilderness trips throughout Southeast and in the Brooks Range. ``We also offer up to 60 percent off on trips that we receive a last-minute cancellation or is not filled to capacity.''

Although the company appreciates maintaining a good relationship with the local community, Warned said their policy has proven to be a sound business practice.

``About 10 percent of our business is from locals and their friends and family. The word-of-mouth advertising within the community really helps. We have people filling out many of our trips that are not completely full,'' Warner said.

Goldbelt Inc., Juneau's urban Native corporation, offers discounts to local residents in the form of pre-season specials.

``We try not to confuse our visitors and employees with different prices so, in the winter, we sell deeply discounted season passes to the (Mount Roberts) Tram that include discounts on other Goldbelt tours. This year we sold over 900 passes before the season actually started,'' said Goldbelt Vice President of Tourism Susan Bell.

Along with the Mount Roberts Tram, the Native corporation owns and operates the Goldbelt Tour Center, Goldbelt Hotel, Auke Nu Tours, Auk Ta Shaa Discovery, Raven Eagle Gifts, Glacier Bay Tours and Cruises and two small cruise ships based in Ketchikan and Seward.

``We need a mix of support to be successful with all of our tourism-related operations. We want people to know our products and bring their friends and families. A lot of our business is referrals throughout the season from the locals,'' Bell said.

Although the helicopter operators in Juneau don't generally advertise their rates, all of the companies offer discounted prices for residents and their visitors.

``We definitely get locals every week that take advantage of our local rate,'' said Amy Windred of ERA Helicopters, a company that offers a 20 percent discount on all their tours. ``With 24 hours notice, we can usually fit people in, which works out well for everybody.''

For Adventure Bound, a tour company that travels to Tracy Arm daily, advertising locally with a coupon at a reduced rate has bolstered business in recent years, said Nicole Weber, daughter of the owners of the company.

``Some days, half of our passengers are using a coupon. We have customers that come back every year with their friends and family,'' said Weber. ``It's really important that we have local support.''

At Northstar Trekking, offering up to $100 off certain tours to locals serves many purposes, said Bob Engelbrecht, owner and operator of the helicopter company that offers guided treks on the Juneau Icefield.

``It helps us fill some seats that might go empty and, at the same time, we try to offer a good deal for the locals to go up to the icefield,'' Engelbrecht said.

``A lot of people that live here don't know what's on the other side of the mountains.''

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