We believe in highlighting the good work tourism businesses are doing to promote responsible travel. In this series, we will be highlighting the work of our platinum sponsors, a group of responsibly-operated hotels and tour operators from around the world whose values align with our mission and have committed to supporting CREST for at least five years. For this feature, we’ve interviewed Alaska Wildland Adventures, who has been a CREST platinum sponsor since 2019. Read our interview below to learn about their commitment to nature, wildlife, and connecting their guests with their surroundings.
Alaska’s pristine wilderness is a major attraction for travelers. How does Alaska Wildland Adventures ensure that its tours and activities have a minimal impact on the natural environment and wildlife while still providing unforgettable experiences?
At Alaska Wildland Adventures, one of our guiding principles is care and concern for Alaska’s natural environment. The longevity and future of our business relies on us maintaining an active role in protecting the wild places, wilderness preserves, and national parks in which we operate and share with travelers each summer.
Thoughtfulness for the environment starts with how we plan and program our Alaska nature tours, along with how we build and operate our three wilderness lodges. To us, this means keeping our operations intentionally small and intimate. We feel this approach not only better protects the wild places we visit through the smaller footprint, but it also provides a superior and more personalized guest experience for travelers.
For scale, our all-inclusive Adventures cater to groups of 8-16 guests, or less, per departure. Our wilderness lodges feature anywhere from 9 to 16 guest cabins per property, and we are disciplined in how we manage the flow of guests in and out of our properties so that we aren’t overloading any trail systems or waterways on any given day during our short 3 month-long summer season. We’re really proud of our collaboration with various Alaska outdoor regulatory agencies – such as Kenai Fjords National Park Service, Alaska Fish and Game and others – so that we are operating ethically and within the bounds of our special-use permits.
An emphasis is placed on sourcing as much of our food, supplies and resources within Alaska, not only in support of local communities and economies, but also to reduce the use of fossil fuels often required to get materials to Alaska. We also work really hard in our operational planning and scheduling so that we can utilize small-scale vehicles, boats and other modes of transportation with the least amount of impact on the environment.
We’ve seen many opportunities for expansion throughout the years, but we feel that being bigger isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes we’ve passed on economic growth in order to stay true to our guiding principles. We have faith that protecting our environment pays dividends more important than those tied to finances; we need Alaska’s wilderness to remain healthy in order to sustain our goal of sharing Alaska’s wonder with a small number of travelers each year.
Adventure activities, such as hiking and kayaking, allow travelers to connect with nature intimately. How does Alaska Wildland Adventures ensure that these activities are conducted responsibly and with a focus on environmental stewardship?
As mentioned earlier, we work with a network of trusted regulatory agencies and environmental groups to earn special use permits in the areas we arrange our guided outdoor activities. Generally speaking, we keep our activity group size in the range of 4-10 guests per activity, with at least one trained guide to keep guests safe and engaged with the nature areas explored. We feel strongly the best way to responsibly interact with Alaska’s wilderness is through a small group approach.
Education plays a significant role in our operations, starting with our extensive training program for our field guides and support team, well before our first guests of the season arrive. Our field guides hold Wilderness First Responder certifications, and we invest in the most robust pre-season training program of any other tourism organization that we know of, where our veteran staff can pass along their knowledge and experience to our new team members. Empowering our staff with responsible tourism resources translates into our guests also learning how to be excellent advocates of wild Alaska.
Before each guided activity commences, our guests are informed on safety protocols as well as Leave No Trace guidelines, and we’ve found having these conversations with our guests encourages them to have a more authentic experience with nature.
Responsible wildlife viewing is an important part of conservation for Alaska’s diverse fauna. How does Alaska Wildland Adventures promote ethical wildlife encounters, and what measures are taken to educate guests about the importance of respecting wildlife habitats?
Just as we educate our guests on the importance of respecting Alaska’s natural environment, we share tips and tactics that they may also respect any wildlife we encounter. Leading by example for our travelers makes all the difference.
A few examples we employ in our coastal Alaska operations are:
- We are a proud member of Whale SENSE, a voluntary education and recognition program offered to commercial whale watching companies in the U.S. Atlantic and Alaska Regions. The program is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Our seacoast boat captains, deck hands and other support staff practice respectful whale watching protocols as part of our marine and wildlife tours.
- Upon arriving at our boat-in only Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, guests are provided a Bear Awareness briefing. This is for both the safety of our guests and also the resident black bears which call the area home. We work with our guests to ensure safe and secure storage of food or any personal hygiene items with a strong scent; instruct on how to keep a respectful and safe distance from wildlife (in short, if the wildlife can see you, you’re too close!); and educate guests on the habits and behaviors of bears. We are proud to peacefully coexist with these magnificent creatures, and through our preventative steps, we haven’t had any negative wildlife encounters at this remote property since its creation in 2009.
Sustainable travel often involves minimizing waste and resource consumption. How does Alaska Wildland Adventures integrate eco-friendly practices, such as waste reduction, recycling, and energy conservation, into their operations?
We are long-time members of Adventure Green Alaska and have honed our own “Green Works” protocols throughout our operations, to reduce and minimize the waste which results from hosting travelers and staff in remote destinations. Aside from simple steps – such as using environmentally sensitive cleaning products, limiting single-use plastic products and reducing fuel consumption whenever possible – we utilize hydro-power and solar power at two of our backcountry properties.
Recently, we implemented even more steps in our eco-conscious systems, including – but not limited – to:
- We source our hospitality paper products and disposables through Green Alaska Solutions. Our toilet paper, paper towels, and other paper products like cups are now 100% post-consumer content.
- We shifted to Earth Breeze laundry detergent sheets from liquid detergent, which has greatly reduced plastic waste and cost of storing/transporting heavy plastic containers to our remote lodges.
- Many of our trash can liners and some of our disposable gloves used by our hospitality staff are now compostable, meaning they are made of cellulose or biobased resins rather than plastic. These too take time to degrade, but when they degrade, it will not be to microplastics.
- Recycling programs in more remote areas of Alaska face many unique challenges, and forging partnerships is imperative for progress in the reduction of waste. We are working with a Cordova-raised engineer named Patrick Simpson, who saw ocean debris and used fishing nets as a problem, so he set out developing containerized plastic waste recyclers that can be deployed to remote Alaskan villages to produce plastic products like decking, siding, fencing and roof tiles on site, reducing waste and building material costs. Patrick has provided us “super sacks” to collect plastic waste from our lodges and transport to his receiving center. What’s really cool is that his system allows us to keep #4 and #5 plastics out of Alaskan landfills, as the state does not yet have a waste stream for these materials. We assist in helping the nearby Cooper Landing Community Center’s participation in this recycling program, as well.
- We continue to adjust our dining menus to focus our buying power within local food networks, such as Arctic Harvest, whenever possible.
Supporting conservation organizations is essential for protecting Alaska’s unique wilderness. How does Alaska Wildland Adventures actively contribute to conservation initiatives and wildlife protection in the areas they operate?
In addition to the environmentally conscious education and training programs we have in place for both our guests and staff, we support local Alaskan environmental organizations by way of financial giving. Alaska Wildland Adventures donates a meaningful percentage of its annual pre-tax revenue to groups we believe in, and we offer a program for our travelers called $2 a Day for Conservation, where guests are also able to contribute toward the success of grassroots environmental initiatives. Each year, our guests donate around $10,000, which is directly passed through to worthwhile organizations and non-profits, such as:
- The Alaska Center
- Alaska Conservation Foundation
- Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance
- Kenai Watershed Forum
We hope that by introducing our annual travelers to these hard-working local environmental groups that we may inspire visitors to build long-lasting relationships with the organizations through ongoing philanthropy and membership support.
Learn more about becoming a CREST platinum sponsor.