A tour group stops at a waterfall during a land tour. // © 2015 John Hall’s Alaska
Feature image (above): Guests are introduced to an Alaska not offered by the competition. // © 2015 Thinkstock
In the competitive world of Alaska cruise and land tour packages, it takes stamina to go head-to-head with the major players and carve out a niche.
For John Hall’s Alaska, that niche started in the late ’90s. The cruise and tour company has a reputation for catering to well-traveled individuals looking for a tour beyond what’s customary and traditional in Alaska.
The company markets itself as introducing an Alaska not offered by the competition — a strong statement, considering John Hall’s follows many of the same highways and roads its competitors use, in addition to partnering with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruise Lines for Inside Passage cruises. Upon analyzing its packages, however, a few major differences separate John Hall’s, namely its highly personalized service and expertise.
Itineraries are customized for each group, and tour managers at John Hall’s have the freedom to modify tours on the spot. Many itineraries often change enroute to make the most of last-minute sights, opportunities or inclement weather.
Last summer, I met up with veteran travel journalist Rita Cook, who was on assignment covering John Hall’s Denali National Park segment.
“I got the Denali story of my life,” she said. “John Hall’s Alaska offers one of the most professional groups I have ever worked with. Their guides were extraordinary.”
Professional guides are an integral key to the company’s success.
“Where many companies hire college kids as inexpensive summer labor, we employ experienced Alaskans who are highly academic,” said John T. Gailey, John Hall’s tour manager. “They have college degrees and, on average, have worked eight years as a tour guide and have 10 years of Alaska residency.”
How a company handles its guests in a crisis often puts its service to the test; John Hall’s has proven it can tackle any challenges that arise. An unusual summer rainstorm in the summer of 2014 flooded Denali creeks and rivers, stranding guests at the far end of Denali National Park.
“An avalanche washed out the only road heading out to the highway,” Cook said. “Hall’s guests, myself included, were stranded. Rather than wait a couple of days for the road crews to clear the road, the company flew us out via bush plane, at no added expense and minimal delay, so we could continue the tour.”
Gailey verified the company policy.
“The company gives the tour managers authority to make on-the-spot decisions,” he said. “We’ll do whatever it takes to ensure the tour not only meets our clients’ expectations, but also exceeds them, no matter what we have to do.”
I recently spoke with Elizabeth Hall, John Hall’s chief operating officer, who said the company is committed to personalized service in a way other tour companies are not.
“It’s part of the ‘value added’ approach we offer,” she said. “Because we are a family-owned and -operated business, we can focus on the fine details of personalized service. All costs, tours, meals and guide services are included in one price.”
John Hall’s offers agents a 5 percent commission based on the entire package value.
John Halls’ Alaska Tour Recommendations for 2015
The Iditarod and Aurora Adventure is an 11-day land tour that includes viewing the start of the Iditarod and interacting with mushers and their dog teams. The aurora viewing takes place at Chena Hot Springs Resort in Fairbanks. The tour also includes guided coverage of the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks and the start of the famous Anchorage Fur Rendezvous.
The Three Bears tour is a 17-day adventure (seven-day cruise, 10-day land) that offers viewing of coastal brown bears on Kodiak Island, interior Alaska grizzlies at Denali National Park and polar bears from the northern city of Kaktovik.