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Spotlight: Don Rosenberger

‘Government support is crucial’

Briefly describe business:
Huna Totem Corporation is a Hoonah-Tlingit Native-owned village corporation that bought the Icy Strait Point cannery in the mid 1990s and turned it into a cultural and wilderness experience for cruise ship visitors. Since Icy Strait Point opened in 2004, it has grown into a flourishing community which welcomed 63 cruise ships this year and over a million visitors in the last 10 years of operation.

When did you first become involved with the visitor industry?
I got my start at the Auke Bay terminal for the Alaska Marine Highway in 1963. After that I went to work for Pacific Northern Airlines. I left in 1984 and became a partner at Tour Alaska.

How is your business affected by the cruise industry?
Icy Strait Point solely relies on the cruise industry. I go out and try to convince the cruise lines to make ship calls at Icy Strait Point. The profits made from the cruise season supports Hoonah year-round. The attraction provides jobs for Alaska Natives and has revived the Tlingit culture.

How did you get your start with the cruise industry?
Princess Tours bought Tour Alaska where I was working in 1986, so I ended up working for Princess. When I retired in 2001, I was working as the vice president of construction and facilities development. Shortly thereafter, a friend reached out and asked if I would like to get involved with Huna and the Icy Strait Point project. The project needed someone familiar with the cruise industry to help them attract cruise lines.

What’s the best part of your job?
Watching this project develop, seeing the village stabilize and being a part of that process is the most rewarding part of my job. Since Icy Strait Point opened its doors to visitors, unemployment has decreased, the village has grown economically and the Tlingit culture has been revived. They’re even teaching the Tlingit language in the school!

What’s your favorite cruise passenger story?
Every once in a while I get those questions like, “what kind of currency do you use in Alaska” and “is Alaska part of the United States?” There’s no one passenger story that stands out. Everyone is happy when they’re at Icy Strait Point. The passengers and the villagers love being there.

What should Alaska do to better support/protect the visitor/cruise industry?
I’ve been in the visitor industry for a long time and government support is crucial for this industry. It’s also important that Alaskans understand the impact it has on their lives. The tourism industry is one of the top supporters of the economy here. Educating Alaskans and reminding them of this is critical.

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