Huna Totem Corp. and Doyon, Limited on Thursday announced the founding of a new joint venture, purchasing a majority stake in Alaska Independent Coach Tours .
The new company, called Na-Dena’ LLC, will promote sustainable cultural tourism in Alaska, focusing on growth in transportation, lodging, and tour opportunities, said Doyon CEO Aaron Schutt.
“The best part of this is it’s three Alaska organizations coming together. Alaskans, we’re different right? We work better when we’re together,” Schutt said in a phone interview. “This isn’t some outside company coming in.”
The name is derived from Alaska Native languages in each company’s respective region, according to the a joint news release — the Athabascan “dene” and Lingít “naa” both mean people or tribe. Na-Dena’ is a 50-50 venture between both organizations.
AICT will not change its management or its name, said President Dennis McDonnell. Its operations in Juneau, Ketchikan, Seattle, Skagway and Sitka will continue looking much as they have for the company’s 16 years, McDonnell said, with an eye toward future expansion both in the Southeast and in the interior where Doyon operates.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunities in Southeast Alaska to develop,” McDonnell said in a phone interview. “We all live in these communities. We want to make sure whatever growth happens is benefiting the community.”
Na-Dena’ was formed with the idea of increased opportunities for cultural tourism, said Huna Totem CEO Russell Dick. When Dick and Schutt were considering the joint venture over the last year, they looked at where their efforts could go the furthest.
“This first acquisition with (AICT) is really really important to us,” Dick said. “We commissioned a study that looked at existing assets across the entire state. We looked at what opportunities really looked like.”
In some areas, Dick said that opportunity looked like increasing tourists’ opportunities for exposure to the arts and culture of the Alaska Natives who have inhabited the lands for 10,000 years or more.
“If you think about cultural tourism from our perspective, it’s about understanding the land’s culture and the arts,” Dick said. “But it’s also about preparing the guests for the journey.”
In the future, Schutt said, it may look like creating new tour opportunities or improving lodging opportunities for visitors to Alaska, both in Southeast Alaska and elsewhere in the state.
“As Aaron said, in Southeast Alaska specifically, it’s not about growing the same piece of pie,” McDonnell said. “It’s about building new pieces of pie.”
Juneau residents will see little change in AICT’s operations this summer, McDonnell said; their operations will go on, and the close relationship with Huna Totem and Doyon will help them as they increase their emphasis on cultural tourism from the moment their buses pick up cruise tourists from the airport in Seattle.
“Being able to tell that story to the guests in an authentic way is very, very important,” Schutt said.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.