Bus at Kantishna Roadhouse (photo via Doyon, Limited)
Native culture has long been an attraction for visitors coming to Alaska, and that interest is only growing. Recently, the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA) relaunched its consumer-facing website, www.TravelAlaska.com, with an increased emphasis on Native tourism opportunities. Such opportunities include travel products from Native-run companies that are actively involved in tourism and integrate Native culture into their guest experience. Here’s a look at some of the latest developments from these entities, big and small, throughout the state.
Huna Totem Corporation
Huna Totem Corporation is best known as the driving force behind Icy Strait Point, the highly successful private port of call on the northern end of the Inside Passage. The destination now has two cruise ship docks, including the original Adventure Landing and the new Wilderness Landing. A vehicle-free zone opened last year with Alaska’s first high-speed gondola. A second high-speed gondola opens this spring, bringing travelers to the top of Hoonah Mountain for hiking trails and panoramic views from 1,600 feet above sea level. Huna recently entered into a new joint venture with Doyon, Limited (see below), and a proposal to build a new cruise ship dock in Whittier is moving forward, with a test run planned at the end of the 2023 season and a full season expected for 2024.
Icy Strait Point Transporter Gondola (photo via Huna Totem Corporation)
Doyon, Limited operates in the Interior’s Denali area through a longstanding concession arrangement with ARAMARK and its own Kantishna Roadhouse to provide shuttle service and accommodations within the national park. Doyon recently partnered with Huna Totem Corporation in a 50-50 joint venture named Na-Dena’ (which means “people” in the Tlingit and Athabascan languages) that will develop sustainable transportation, lodging and tour products along an “Alaska Native Tourism Corridor” stretching from Seattle to the Inside Passage, Southcentral and Interior Alaska. The very first investment of the new company was to purchase an 80 percent stake in Alaska Independent Coach Tours in Juneau.
Sitka-based, family-owned Allen Marine operates a number of tourism-oriented entities. The family’s original business was its boat yard, and its catamarans can be seen all over Alaska and even beyond. A number of these are employed by Allen Marine Tours for shore excursions based out of Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka. The family’s small-ship overnight operation—Alaskan Dream Cruises—is the only Indigenous-owned cruise line in Alaska, offering expedition-style, wilderness-intensive itineraries led by “true Alaskans.” For 2022, the line will offer a full slate of six- to 10-day itineraries on its fleet of six small-ships carrying 10 to 76 passengers. Departures are scheduled from early April through mid-September.
Hoonah Indian Association
The Hoonah Indian Association (not to be confused with Huna Totem Corp.) is expanding its tourism offerings. The tribe recently bought the Gustavus Inn at Glacier Bay and will be reopening it in 2023 with a new Native cultural emphasis. Upgrades will include a renovation of all 13 guest rooms replete with Tlingit art and modern amenities such as WiFi. Nearby within Glacier Bay National Park is the Huna Tribal House, where the Association supplies interpretive programming, providing additional opportunities for guests to engage with the local Native culture. In other news, HIA plans to begin ferry service between Gustavus and Hoonah, which will allow guests to visit Icy Strait Point.
City of Hoonah Harbor (photo via Huna Totem Corporation)
Sitka Tribal Tours
A new cruise terminal in Sitka could mean a lot more customers for Sitka Tribal Tours. The operator’s basic 2.5-hour program includes a motorcoach tour of historical Sitka including the area’s Russian-era sites, such as the Orthodox Cathedral and Bishop’s House, along with a visit to the totem poles at Sitka National Historical Park. A longer, 3.5-hour tour includes a stop at the Alaska Raptor Center. Both programs are guided by residents of the Sitka community and culminate with a Native dance performance at the tribe’s traditional clan house. New for 2022 is a visit to a seafood-processing plant to learn about the different types of seafood harvested in Sitka Sound followed by a demonstration of how to prepare salmon or halibut. Also new for this season are joint dance performances with the New Archangel Dancers.
Cape Fox Corporation
Ketchikan-based Cape Fox has been investing in its various tourism interests. The 72-room Cape Fox Lodge has been continuously renovated over the past few years with updated accommodations and facilities. Among its guest amenities are the full-service Heen Kahidi Restaurant, Sweet Mermaids café serving Ketchikan’s famous Raven’s Brew coffee and the new Eagles Nest brick-oven pizzeria opening May 1. A new funicular linking the hotel to the Creek Street tourism district begins operation this spring as well. Tour products have been upgraded too: The “Taste of Alaska” tour to the George Inlet Cannery, run in cooperation with Allen Marine, has a new beer-tasting option, and a new adventure cart tour will be available from Ketchikan AdventureVue at scenic Mahoney Lake on land leased by Cape Fox.