Over the past 30 years, the team at All Alaska Tours, guided by Owner and President, Al Koch, has helped over 350,000 travelers bring their biggest Alaska dreams to life. So, it might not surprise you to learn that the company’s origins are also something of a “once-in-a-lifetime” Alaska story, filled with humble beginnings and big dreams that became a reality in 1991.
A True “Only in Alaska” Story: The History of Alaska Tours
The history of All Alaska Tours begins back in the ‘70s, when husband-wife business team, David and Eva Howe, launched Rainbow Tours, an adventure travel company based in Dawson City, in the Yukon Territory in Canada. As Rainbow Tours evolved into a tour operator taking small groups on guided tours of the Yukon Territory and into Alaska, the Howes watched the Alaska travel industry take off. In order to capitalize on this business opportunity and expand the company’s reach into Alaska, they partnered with a friendly competitor and travel guru, Al Koch, owner of his own bustling Alaska-based business.
“I often joke that All Alaska Tours started with four canoes and a pick-up truck based out of Dawson City,” Koch said. “In 1991, David sought to grow Rainbow’s business and expand into Alaska to take advantage of new charter flights between Zurich, Switzerland and Anchorage. David and I had bumped into one another at various travel trade shows and customer sales events and over time, we developed a great respect and friendship as colleagues despite being in fact, competitors. I had travel trade industry contacts in Switzerland, so we began working in collaboration when David launched All Alaska Tours in June 1991.”
Koch continued, “In 1995, I officially joined forces with All Alaska Tours, continuing to market and develop tour products to meet the ever-increasing interest in Alaska as a destination, internationally.”
The next chapter for the company began in 1998, when Koch recognized the increasing potential of the internet to expand the distribution of a wide-range of tour packages to consumers. The world wide web became a game-changing moment at All Alaska Tours, as Koch launched AlaskaTours.com and its new consumer-facing brand, Alaska Tours. In 2013, the Howes retired and Koch became sole owner of All Alaska Tours Inc. and Alaska Tours.
Koch recently reflected on the journey from an entrepreneur’s humble beginnings to a thriving travel business catering to thousands of travelers, “I believe Alaska will continue to grow as a visitor destination of choice,” he said, “so I hope that our future, as a company, is bright!”
Interview Q&A with All Alaska Tours Owner, Al Koch
Why do you believe Alaska is such a magnet for travelers?
“Alaska’s unique and limitless natural beauty combined with its amazing wildlife continue to be the primary factors attracting travelers from around the globe. In addition, the rich cultures of our Alaska Native people and the folklore of the Alaskan lifestyle provide visitors unique insights into the heritage and history of this area and showcase what life in the North is like. And, of course, Alaska’s many national and state parks, pristine wilderness areas, massive glaciers, marine life cruises and amazing fishing opportunities also inspire travel for many.”
How has the Alaska tourism landscape changed over your three decades as a leader in Alaska tourism?
“When our company was founded, the cruise industry was just taking off, significantly increasing awareness of Alaska as a travel destination. There was limited awareness among cruise passengers, however, about how to travel around Alaska by land. Our international travel trade partners also needed non-cruise tour, land-based programs to meet visitor demand. With our deep knowledge of Alaska suppliers, our team at All Alaska Tours was able to pioneer independent travel itineraries from self-drive tours to rail tour packages, with customized add-on activities such as bear viewing, Arctic adventures and more.
Over the years, with many marketing programs sponsored by the State of Alaska, local destination marketing organizations in Anchorage, Fairbanks and other areas, and local business leaders, Alaska began to establish itself as a “go-to” destination for travelers. And now, with the internet, as tourism operators, we are now able to easily get past the inherent hesitations people might have about traveling to a vast and wild place like Alaska. For Alaska, the tourism landscape has changed from one of relative obscurity, to being one of the worlds must see, bucket list destinations!”
How have you managed to maintain relevance for guests as the internet, social media and global travel trends continue to evolve?
“At Alaska Tours, our focus has always been ‘customer first’. We strive to use our expertise as travel experts and Alaskans to be as creative and as flexible as possible when we plan the vacation experiences our guests dream of. We continue to look for innovative ways to package their diverse options when it comes to places to go and things to do. And we make sure to leverage technology to broaden our reach and merchandise our products to a global marketplace. Fundamentally, the AAT team loves living in Alaska and we provide highly personalized service, sharing our expertise and experiences with our clients through any and all communication channels available to us.”
How did AAT navigate the challenges of COVID-19 and the pandemic’s impact on travel?
“COVID-19 was so unexpected and unpredictable for all of us in tourism and hospitality. Once it became clear in March 2020 that travel would not be possible for many anytime in the near future, we immediately worked with our in-state partners to provide maximum flexibility so that clients could change their travel plans or have their money refunded. The first few months of 2020 were challenging as an entire year’s worth of business all but disappeared. Not only did our sales decline, but we also had the challenge of assisting clients until everyone was taken care of – essentially twice the work but with no revenue. Throughout this difficult time however, I’m proud to report that our team was able to remain ‘customer-first’ and we were able to make it through. Regrettably, for the first time in our history we had to lay-off staff but we are now starting to rebuild the business. As a business, we were able to survive due a great team effort, conservative financial management, aided by PPP and other CARES fund grants.”
What does the future look like for Alaska Tours?
“Alaska, as a destination, is lucky to be viewed as a pristine, nature-rich and cultural hot spot which is very appealing in today’s world. It is almost impossible to find a similar constellation of attractions and highlights, so I see Alaska continuing to grow as a destination of choice for travelers. Our team at Alaska Tours is a highly experienced and dedicated group of passionate Alaskans ready to take on the challenge of meeting the needs of our guests for years to come. So, I believe that the future for Alaska Tours looks very bright!”