Spotlight: Gideon Garcia
January 1, 1970
[caption id="attachment_1798" align="alignright" width="150"] Gideon Garcia
Chief Operating Officer of CIRI Alaska Tourism[/caption]
Garcia: Cruise ships provide foundation for smaller Alaska companies
Briefly describe business:
CIRI Alaska Tourism Corporation (CATC) operates Kenai Fjords Tours, Seward Windsong Lodge, Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge, Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge and Alaska Heritage Tours. CATC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cook Inlet Region Incorporated (CIRI), one of 12 Alaska-based regional corporations established by the Alaska Native Claims Act of 1971. Anchorage-based CIRI is owned by 8,300 Alaska Native shareholders of Athabascan and Southeast Indian, Iñupiat, Yup'ik, Alutiiq and Aleut descent.
CATC is dedicated to showing guests the best of Alaska and offering CIRI shareholders job opportunities as well as a profitable return on their investment.
When did you first become involved in the visitor industry?
My first visitor industry job was as a science interpreter at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. I told Native American legends and gave woodworking demonstrations in the Kwakiutl Long House. Occasionally I got very lucky and was able to work the midnight Pink Floyd laser light shows!
How is your business affected by the cruise industry?
From shore excursions to package tours, we work closely with the cruise industry. We routinely provide shore excursions to cruise guests via our Kenai Fjords Tours business in Seward. Many cruise guests spend one or two nights at Seward Windsong Lodge or Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge while on cruise line packaged land tours. Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge, our newest addition, often hosts more adventurous, independent cruise guests looking for an accessible but truly remote Alaskan experience.
We appreciate every cruise ship guest who visits us. While many guests visit Alaska for the first time via cruising, a large percentage of those first-time visitors come back to explore further and take advantage of our products. We complement the cruise industry very well. We provide unique day cruises with our Kenai Fjords Tours vessels to places that cruise ships can’t or don’t have the time to visit. Our package tour business, Alaska Heritage Tours, benefits when repeat guests want to book their own, customized tours of Alaska after whetting their appetite for more on their first cruise to Alaska.
How did you get your start with the cruise industry?
My introduction to the Alaska cruise industry was 20 years ago this month when I was a fledgling motorcoach commander (bus driver) with Holland America. I spent the summer driving out of Anchorage to Fairbanks, Denali, Valdez, Whittier and Seward. It was fun getting paid to see Alaska and sharing the Great Land with guests from around the world. Many of my friends from that summer are still in the Alaska visitor industry to this day. I used to drive a bus, but now I drive a desk! It may not always be as much fun as driving a coach, but it has allowed me to raise my family in Alaska.
What’s the best part of your job?
Reading the positive guest comments about our products. There is no greater satisfaction than reading of the successes of our dedicated staff, who routinely go above and beyond in the pursuit of satisfying guests.
It only gets better though when I can escape the office for a day and spend time with the guests at the lodges or on our vessels and hear their Alaska adventures firsthand. Knowing that we are forging indelible memories for the rest of our guest’s lives is priceless and very satisfying.
What’s your favorite cruise passenger story?
When I used to manage Gold Dredge No. 8 in Fairbanks, there was a retired gentleman on a post-cruise land tour who wanted to make his wife’s gold panning experience unforgettable. He came into the mercantile and bought a quarter ounce gold nugget. I remember he had a large roll of cash from which he peeled off $20 and $50 bills. He then went out to “help” his wife pan for gold. He carefully palmed the nugget into the dirt and water in the gold pan without her noticing. When she finally got down to pay dirt and realized that she had hit the mother load, she let out a scream of delight that made everyone around her excited and curious. The gold fever that he started that day was infectious!
What should Alaska do to better support/protect visitor/cruise industry?
Alaska needs to invest in one of its strongest renewable resources by continuing to support strong tourism marketing of Alaska as a special, unique destination. Alaska is an authentic place, unlike any other in the world. But many other destinations compete fiercely for guests’ time and money. We need to remind potential guests that there is no substitution for an Alaska vacation.
Alaska also needs to be a place that works with the cruise industry in a reliable manner. Cruise ships provide a strong foundation for the Alaskan visitor industry. Their marketing and operational efficiencies help make Alaskan vacations affordable and accessible for millions of guests. They provide a solid foundation for smaller Alaskan companies to develop tourism businesses.
As an industry, the complete economic impact of tourism can sometime be difficult to communicate to the lay person. Showing Alaskans that the industry is a strong part of our overall economy and that a diversified economy is a healthy one is also important.