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Those of us who are Baby Boomers or on the older side of Generation X, will remember the television show “Northern Exposure.” The series, which ran from 1990 to 1995, was about a New York doctor moving to a quirky, small Alaskan town populated with unique characters. It was a fan favorite and earned plenty of critical acclaim — winning Emmy Awards and even two Peabody Awards.
“Northern Exposure” became an iconic portrayal of life in the far north and, in some ways, it affects many travelers’ ideas of what to expect when they visit Alaska to this day. While many of Alaska’s most popular destinations feel like major tourist centers, the towns of Petersburg and Wrangell, which are featured in this issue’s cover story, “The Rainforest Islands of Alaska,” capture this “Northern Exposure” Alaska personality.
“When I visited Petersburg and Wrangell, my first thought was, ‘Where are the tourists?’” said Christopher Batin, our Alaska Editor and the writer of this issue’s cover story. “Because these towns aren’t included in the established schedules of major cruises and tours, most agents and clients don’t consider them. For now, these are frontier towns that offer a flavor of simple Alaska. They offer the best the destination has to offer, including tidewater glaciers, kayaking, fishing, bear viewing and, most of all, the opportunity to interact with local history and culture through its residents. That’s why I want agents to know about this region, so clients can enjoy it with all the wonder that I experienced — before it’s too late.”
To Batin, the unique personality of the region plays into a growing trend in tourism. Rather than visit an Alaskan town that feels overpopulated with outsiders and contrived by the tourist industry, people are looking to get off the well-worn path to feel a stronger connection to a destination.
Of course, travel agents can help travelers with this. When qualifying clients who say they are interested in Alaska, keep asking questions to get a fuller sense of why they want to go and what sort of vacation they are hoping to have. By digging deeper, an agent might be able to craft better experiences for clients in places where their “Northern Exposure” image is closer to reality.