It’s not Klondike-era gold nuggets they’re after, but the gold that comes from mining tourism.
Airlines, cruise companies and chains such as Cabela’s and the Hard Rock Cafe are heading north to Alaska hoping to cash in on a rising tide of visitors to the Land of the Midnight Sun.
After three consecutive years of growth, Alaska’s visitor count reached an all-time high of nearly 2 million guests between May 1, 2013, and April 30, 2014, according to the Alaska Division of Economic Development.
Those 1,961,700 visitors beat the 2007-20008 record by 5,000 people.
“For many national brands such as Hard Rock, Alaska felt too far away to be relevant to expanding a national presence and many thought it would be too difficult to run a successful branch in the state,” said Calum MacPherson, area vice president of operations at Hard Rock International, “but we’ve seen a shift in recent years.”
Hard Rock now sees Anchorage as a “thriving, up-and-coming city that is uniquely positioned with a growing and flourishing cruise business” he said. He also noted that the local population was listed by the Census Bureau as having the nation’s second-highest median income in 2011.
After a soft opening early this summer, the Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage will have a grand opening Sept. 19 at its downtown Anchorage location at Fourth Avenue and E Street, which is where the long-distance Iditarod sled dog race begins each year.
Earlier this year, Cabela’s opened a 100,000-square-foot store in Anchorage selling hunting, fishing and outdoor gear with wildlife displays, an aquarium, indoor archery range, a mountain replica, deli, fudge shop and other tourist-friendly attractions on-site. Bass Pro Shops, with a wetlands nature center, stuffed animals, an aquarium and other tourist-friendly features, opened an outpost in July.
The new tourism record for Alaska was boosted by increases in the number of cruise visitors, greater air service, growth in winter travel and an aggressive state-led tourism marketing campaign, said Joe Jacobson, director of the state’s Division of Economic Development.
Close to a million visitors toured Alaska by cruise ship last year, lured by great scenery, not to mention a reduction in the state’s passenger head tax from $46 to $34.50.
“After that, many ships returned to Alaska and new ships entered the market,” Jacobson said. Holland America added departures that brought 6 percent more guests in 2013 over 2012, Celebrity Cruises sent one of its new Solstice Class ships to Alaska for the first time and new ships entered the market, he said.
Increased air service helped Alaska boost tourism numbers as well. Virgin America and Icelandair entered the market with service to Anchorage, and several other carriers (JetBlue, United and Delta,) increased the number of their Alaskan flights.
One number that isn’t rising is the age of the average visitor.
The most recent Visitor Statistics Program report that looked at demographics (2011-2012) found that the average age decreased slightly, from 51.6 to 50.7, between 2006 and 2011.
“The glaciers took my breath away,” said Renee Brotman, a leadership coach and organizational consultant from Goodyear, Arizona, who recently visited Alaska on a cruise and is already planning a return trip. “Juneau and Ketchikan are such charming small towns. You can stand in the middle of the street and look up and see glorious mountains all around you.”
Looking ahead, Alaska’s Division of Economic Development doesn’t do a formal tourism forecast. “But because changes in cruise ship deployment have a significant impact on the Alaska visitor market—51 percent of year-round visitors and 59 percent of the summer market—cruise industry schedules for Alaska provide a good indicator of what to expect,” said Caryl McConkie, the agency’s development specialist.
Cruise Lines International Association Alaska estimated that the state will see 972,000 cruise visitors during 2014, compared with 999,600 during 2013, due in part to the redeployment of two Princess ships to Asia.
“Strong early bookings for 2015 indicate that we may make up for some of the loss of passengers in 2014,” McConkie said, “Princess is replacing the Island Princess with the larger Ruby Princess in 2015, increasing lower berth capacity by just over 1,000 passengers per voyage.”
Climate change might help the 2016 cruise season warm up as well.
Since the 1990s, expedition-style cruise companies such as Polar Cruises, have offered sailings on smaller ships (with up to 199 passengers) that leave traditionally plied Alaska waters to explore Iceland, Greenland and sections of the Northwest Passage, which connects the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.
In 2016, Crystal Cruises plans to be the first luxury line to navigate the Northwest Passage route.
During a cruise from Aug. 16 to Sept. 17, 2016, the 68,000-ton Crystal Serenity, which carries 1,070 passengers, will travel from Anchorage/Seward to New York City, through Arctic waterways historically not navigable by large ships.
On its website, Crystal explains that a cruise is now possible because the “amount of ice in the Northwest Passage has declined considerably over the years, especially at the end of the summer in the southern reaches of the Passage,” creating a window of time when its 13-deck vessel will have minimal risk of running into “ice concentrations.”
Prices for the voyage start at $19,975 per person.
(My story about tourism in Alaska first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior).
App-powered ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft keep butting heads with regulators in cities around the country, claiming that rules for traditional taxis are outdated and not applicable to new transportation models.
Here’s my story on the latest chapter in the battle that appeared on CNBC Road Warrior.
After a few weeks of negotiations with state and city authorities and the threat of a restraining order, Lyft worked out a deal to start service in New York City beginning Friday at 7 p.m.
Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island will, for now, get a limited version of the service that was originally planned, but the deal means Lyft is putting operations in Buffalo and Rochester on hold by Aug. 1 while it works out a variety of insurance and regulatory issues.
Uber spokesman Lane Kasselman said via email that while the company was not aware of any actions taken by the city of Memphis, “any attempt to restrict consumer choice and limit economic opportunity does nothing but hurt the thousands of residents and visitors who already rely on Uber for safe, affordable and reliable transportation.”
But Lyft spokeswoman Erin Simpson said the company took the cease-and-desist letter “as an opportunity to start a conversation with local leaders about Lyft’s peer-to-peer model and how we can work together to craft new rules that prioritize safety.”
Consumer alerts and cease-and-desist orders against Uber, Lyft and other transportation network companies are in effect in more than a dozen other cities and states. But while the so-called transportation disruptors have gained regulatory approval in Seattle, Minneapolis and a handful of other jurisdictions around the country, pushback at the national level continues.
Through its “Who’s Driving You?” campaign, the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association is tracking insurance alerts regarding rideshare companies and soliciting and sharing passenger complaints and negative news stories about the services.
“We would like to see ridesharing companies following a single set of rules designed to protect the public in the taxicab space,” said Dave Sutton, spokesperson for TLPA’s ‘Who’s Driving You?’ campaign.
TLPA also recently drew attention to the fact that the Airport Ground Transportation Association, a trade organization for airport ground transportation operators, airports and others, issued a warning to North American airports.
“Transportation Network Companies have moved beyond city regulations to now challenge airport ground transportation regulations as not applying to them. They intend to operate at airports and challenge airport officials to stop them,” said Ray Mundy, AGTA executive director, in the warning.
That plan already seems to be underway.
In 2013, when California became the first state to regulate ridesharing services, the Public Utilities Commission included a provision prohibiting TNCs from operating “on the property of or into any airport unless such operations are authorized by the airport involved.”
But in June 2014, law enforcement officials at five major California airports (LAX, OAK, SAN, SFO and SJC) told the commission that many ridesharing services were flouting those rules by continuing to operate at the airports without permits.
“We’ve invested a lot of work since last fall, trying to find a way to create a lawful way for TNCs to operate at airports,” said Doug Yakel, spokesman for San Francisco International Airport. But he said while SFO is in discussions with several TNC companies regarding permits, “thus far we have not completed this process for any company.”
Airports in Chicago, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and many other cities have also grappled with the TNC issue.
Now Airports Council International-North America, the trade organization for North American airports, is getting involved.
While “it is unacceptable for TNCs to simply ignore regulations and requirements with which they disagree, as has been the case at some airports … the demand for transportation network companies cannot be overlooked and must be addressed,” said Deborah McElroy, ACI-NA executive vice president.
ACI-NA has put together a task force to help airport officials establish regulations and work out reasonable solutions, although given the circumstances at individual airports, the appropriate solutions may differ greatly, said McElroy.
And while “there’s no handbook yet” for dealing with TNCs in cities and airports, “we’re just seeing the beginning of a new method of transportation that’s vastly superior to what came before,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation. “They will eventually find a way to regulate them and make them safe.”
If you sometimes wonder where the food served at a hotel restaurant comes from, you might want to check out one of the programs I profiled for CNBC Road Warrior where the on-site chef will cook up what guests catch, shoot or forage.
Me? I think I’m going to try the forage option.
Courtesy Turkey Trot Acres
Farm-to-table meals have become so popular that hotels are now getting in the game with an even closer-to-the-source experience by offering chef-prepared meals using food hooked, foraged or shot by their guests.
You might visit Turkey Trot Acres in Candor, New York, for a wedding reception, reunion, barbecue or zombie-fest, but wild turkey hunting in the spring and fall is what this upstate lodge is best known for.
Turkey Trot specializes in three-day guided hunting packages that start at $1,200 and include single-bed rooms, meals and guides. And while not everyone bags a turkey, those who do usually pose proudly with their bird before it goes into the cooler.
“Turkey Trot will clean the turkey for you, package it and tell you how to cook it. And if you want it prepared for dinner, they’ll do that too,” said Marlin Watkins, a well-known turkey call maker from southeast Ohio who’s been a regular at the lodge for the past 25 years.
“But when you harvest a wild turkey it’s such an event that most people would rather take it home to show off to their friends and family. I’ve seen a lot of turkeys go home in the back of a Cadillac,” Watkins said.
Next winter, Viceroy Snowmass, near Aspen, Colorado, will be adding a “you kill/we cook” option to its menu of hotel activities. From Nov. 8 to Jan. 18, guests will be able to hunt for pheasant, duck and goose—but not turkey—with guides from the Aspen Outfitting Company. The hotel’s executive chef, Will Nolan, will show guests how he breaks down the game and then prepares it for a meal. The cost: $2,200, not including accommodations.
“Guests are constantly looking for ways to get closer to their food, and I can’t think of a more intimate experience,” said Nolan. “The most memorable meals are those that you actually have a part in creating, so this fits the bill in a number of exciting ways.”
Michigan’s Catch & Cook program, a joint project of a half dozen public agencies and commercial associations, connects charter fishing clients and charter boat operators in the state’s Great Lakes region with about 50 restaurants, many of them linked to hotels and inns, which will cook and serve the day’s catch.
The program began in 2012 and has reeled in a net full of economic benefits.
“Distinctive experiences like Catch & Cook are likely to be told and retold,” said Jordan Burroughs, a wildlife outreach specialist at Michigan State University. Charter boat businesses benefit through positive word-of-mouth, restaurants get added business during the early afternoon—a traditionally slower and less profitable part of the day—”and communities benefit when visitors extend their stay, supporting local restaurants and presumably, other local businesses,” Burroughs said.
In Florida, the Hyatt Regency Sarasota has a “You Catch ‘Em, We’ll Cook ‘Em” offer for visiting anglers, including those who dock at the hotel’s 32-slip marina. For $40 per person, the chef at the Hyatt’s Currents Restaurant will grill, blacken, sear or pan fry a fisherman’s cleaned and filleted catch and serve it up with soup or salad, sides of fresh vegetables, other accompaniments and dessert.
A similar program, called “Hook N’ Cook,” is offered at the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village in Cape Coral, Florida. There, chefs at two onsite dining venues will prepare a guest’s freshly-caught and cleaned fillet for a typical plate fee of $15, with other menu items included with the meal at an additional cost, said Stefanie Eakin, the Westin resort’s marketing manager.
Courtesy Nita Lake Lodge
Each Wednesday morning during September and October, guests may go foraging for wild and edible plants, shoots, lichens and mushrooms with the executive chef of Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler, British Columbia.
Wednesday evenings, those same guests can dine with their fellow foragers on a five-course meal using the ingredients plucked that morning in the Whistler Valley. Tickets are $70 per person, plus tax, for the foraging foray and the dinner.
The class spends a great deal of time talking about and studying false or deadly look-a-likes. “All amateur foragers learn a key rule,” said Paul Moran, the executive chef at the lodge’s Aura Restaurant, “When trying to identify wild plants and mushrooms, even if you are 99 percent sure something is edible, if you still have 1 percent of doubt, it’s not worth eating.”
It’s great to fly to a new city for business or leisure travel, but how will you get around once you’re in town?
In more and more cities, bike-share programs – along with mass transit- are the answer.
Here’s a story I put together for CNBC Road Warrior on some of the bike-share programs rolling out around the country:
Despite some financial and legal challenges, bike-sharing programs are rolling out in cities throughout North America.
Locals and visitors in Minneapolis, New York, Washington and about 30 other North American cities can now buy daily, weekly or annual program memberships and/or pay hourly fees to check out a bike to ride around town.
Cities such as Tampa; San Diego; Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia, will soon be launching programs.
Seattle is the latest city to announce that it is joining the bike-share bandwagon, with a start date in September for Pronto Emerald City Cycle Share, which will kick off with 50 docking stations around town for 500 blue and green bikes.
As in other cities, grants, private sponsorships and user fees will make the bike-share program possible. But with a contribution of $2.5 million from Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, the Emerald City is the first to have its bike-share program sponsored by an airline.
“We’re excited to help residents and visitors get out and explore,” said Joe Sprague, the airline’s vice president of marketing. “Our investment in this program is an investment in our community.”
It may seem odd that a traditionally fuel-guzzling form of transportation is supporting a very green one, but Alaska Airlines has a strong sustainability program.
“Biking in a city puts smiles on people’s faces, and airlines want to be associated with people having fun while traveling,” said Andy Clarke, president of the Washington, D.C.-based League of American Bicyclists.
That fun has bubbled over to political and policy decisions in other cities.
“When Paris introduced their system a decade ago, it was striking how many mayors around the world said ‘I want that,’ ” said Clarke.
And biking through a city is no longer seen as unconventional.
“Maybe 10 years ago biking would have been a granola effort in the sense that people choosing to bike were part of the environmental movement,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the non-profit Eno Center for Transportation.
“Bike-sharing has helped change that. In places like Washington, D.C., and Chicago you see people in suits and ties riding the bikes because it’s a convenient and effective way to get to work. Not because they’re saving the Earth,” said Schank.
While setting up a bike-share program may seem as easy as putting up some racks with bikes, “it’s complicated and not cheap, easy or free. There’s a lot to it,” said Clarke.
And these programs are not without flats.
In January 2014, Montreal-based Public Bike System Company (known as Bixi), which provided bike-share equipment to programs in several countries, sought bankruptcy protection with more than $44 million in debt. Contributing to the company’s financial downfall was a problem with the software for bike docking stations in some major cities, which caused those cities to withhold payments.
The company was sold in April.
“That raised a bunch of question and has hampered a few cities from pushing ahead,” said Clarke. “They’re asking more questions about the financial implications, but I don’t think it will have much of a lasting effect on the take-up of bike share programs.”
The cost of setting up bike-share programs is also coming down.
“When the bike-share concept came to the U.S. in 2010, it cost about $6,000 per bike to get on the street, including the kiosks, racks and installation,” said Josh Squire, CEO of Miami-based CycleHop, which is working on launching programs in Tampa, Atlanta, Phoenix, Orlando, Louisville and Ottawa.
Now with smart bikes and new technology, it’s possible to get a program going for $3,000 to $5,000 per bike, said Squire. “And more sponsors—including banks, health-care companies and, now, airlines—are stepping up to help shoulder the costs, paying $500 to $1,000 per year per bike to sponsor the programs.”
For travelers wanting to try out a bike-share program in a new city, Clarke has a few tips.
Bring a helmet. And if you think you’ll want a bike for a half or full day, consider getting one from a traditional bike rental outlet. That may end up being less expensive than bike-share programs, which often don’t charge members for rides under 30 minutes, but start a meter running after that.
“But in a city like Washington, D.C., that can still be cheaper than one cab ride,” said Clarke.
And nothing beats the experience of riding up and down the National Mall on a bike.”