From the performance stage to cruise docks: Talking with local tour boss

From the performance stage to cruise docks: Talking with local tour boss

She’s helped her company quadruple in size in eight years.

Juneau Tours and Whale Watch’s Serene Hutchinson was recognized this week at the Alaska Travel Industry Association convention in Juneau.

Hutchinson, who spoke Tuesday on a panel of women leaders in tourism, has helped the company quadruple in size in her eight years with the company, which now operates nine boats, 30 buses and a year-round shop to keep its fleet in working order.

The JTWW general manager spoke to the Empire on Wednesday on her former career, time with the company and more.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your back story?

A: We’re a local whale watching and bus tour company. My brother started the company, Sky Bonnell. He started it officially going on 18 years (ago) but I think we’ve had the name Juneau Tours for about 15. We started completely independently just from dock sales without any kind of cruise line contracts or anything. And then in 2012 he brought me on and we launched websites and started doing direct online sales. We were fortunate to come in right at the right time when cruise line passengers we’re getting really savvy online.

Juneau Tours & Whale Whale General Manager Serene Hutchinson talks with Alaska Shore Tours owner Drew Fortner on the Juneau waterfront on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. (Nolin Ainsworth | Juneau Empire)

Juneau Tours & Whale Whale General Manager Serene Hutchinson talks with Alaska Shore Tours owner Drew Fortner on the Juneau waterfront on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. (Nolin Ainsworth | Juneau Empire)

Q: Does it feel like those eight years have flown by?

A: In some ways it definitely does. We have upwards of 80 staff every year and we all work so closely together. We love our team. We’re just attracting better and better people every year. We have great camaraderie as a team and it’s fun for everybody to be a part of something that you can feel the crackle of growth. It’s fun to be apart of something that everyone is focused on being better everyday. But at the same time it also feels like I have also done this my whole life.

Q: What did you do before you were hired by your brother?

A: My first career was I was on tour with a repertory theater company for 14 years. I worked in about eight different countries.

Q: What did you do for the theater company?

A: I was an actress and director, which is how I learned how to run a company. I know how to boss people around and I know how to pretend like I know what I’m doing. (Laughs)

Q: That’s a hard industry I feel like to make it in. You must’ve had a lot of grit that you carried over from that.

A: I think the two things that were the best for me with that was learning how to work with people from all over the world, learning different languages and then learning how to connect with people of different cultures. Both from an audience perspective, which is kind of how I see customers, as well as the fellow actors and teams that I traveled with taught me how to work side-by-side with all different kinds of people in all different kinds of conditions.

On top of that, each team ran themselves independently so we also had to sell and set-up our own itineraries and schedules and book all of our own gigs. So that taught me how to sell.

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or

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