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Why You Should Hire a Guide

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Why You Should Hire a Guide

(Especially if you’re an Alaskan)
by Trent Gould, Owner, Kayak Adventures

Several years ago, I was sitting on a brightly colored hotel bed in Aguas Calientes, Peru, planning how I’d spend my time at Machu Picchu the following day. I had read online about hiring a local guide, but thought to myself, “I’m not falling for that tourist trap, I don’t need a guide.” After all, “I’m outdoorsy.” I’d been guiding internationally for almost twenty years, had read lots of books about the area, and felt that I didn’t need a guide showing me around. I was good to go on my own. I went to bed that night thinking just how smart I was and stoked that I had saved a bit of money.

The next morning I woke up early to hike Machu Picchu Mountain. With limited permits and a very steep climb, I knew it would be the perfect way to explore the area and escape the crowds. The hike was grueling, but once on top I watched puffy white clouds dance through the bright green valleys below. From atop the mountain, I looked down on Machu Picchu and watched as herds of people started to fill the deserted town. I felt affirmed with my decision to do it on my own.

I descended to the ruins of the magical city and started exploring. Quickly, I noticed small guided tours weaving purposefully through the maze of perfectly placed granite walls. I watched as locals, with unwavering passion in their eyes and a tremor in their voice, shared inspiring stories of the people who built this impossible place. I found myself stopping nearby the groups, leaning in closer, hoping to overhear what the guides were sharing. Walking without purpose or direction, it hit me:

I was completely missing the magic of this special place.

The ruins had stories and secrets to tell and I would never find them on my own. I needed a guide, because guides help guests discover the magic and wonder of special places.

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Fast forward to summer 2020, and we are living in the new world of COVID-19. Here at Kayak Adventures, we are tasked with inspiring local Alaskans to join us on our sea kayaking tours. The irony is not lost on me, when all I keep hearing is that ‘Alaskans don’t hire guides, because we don’t need them’ and that ‘the only way Alaskans will hire a guide is if we slash our prices’. But I wholeheartedly disagree.

Here are three reasons why you should hire a guide this summer,
especially if you’re an Alaskan, and why discounts won’t save us.

1) Gain a new understanding and appreciation for our home.

Many Alaskans have seen the bluish green water of Resurrection Bay. Some have been lucky enough to watch an otter munching a sea star, or a lazy harbor seal catching some sun, or even a humpback whale breaching. Thousands of people flock to Seward every summer to catch a glimpse of these invaluable creatures.

Alaskans all over the state enjoy the bounty that our ocean and rivers provide, but can you tell me why Southcentral Alaska is the most productive marine ecosystem in the world during the summer?

What if I gave you a hint and told you that glaciers were partially responsible? The humpback & killer whales that inspire wonder, the salmon and halibut that feed our families, every living creature in our ocean is here because of the glaciers. Even you and me. That’s a pretty important concept to understand as an Alaskan, because it changes the way we look at glaciers. With that seemingly small bit of new information, glaciers transform from a chunk of ice into the foundation of life in our oceans.

Our guides’ knowledge doesn’t end at the waterfront. Guides are going to impart other very important things about Seward as well. Like who has the best IPA on draft; what time does Resurrection Art and Coffee Shop put out their fresh baked goods; tips and tricks on how to get into the Cookery (the best restaurant in town); and what are the best hikes to take your young adventurers on (Exit Glacier Half Day Exploration with Seward Wilderness Collective). Guides are an integral part of the fabric here in Seward and they love sharing their favorite parts of our community with guests.

2) Support the local economy

Most of our vendors are small, Alaskan-owned companies, from our t-shirt printer (Eight Arms Printing Co.) to our water taxis (Seward Coastal Safari & Seward Charters ) as well as our sandwich maker (The Lunch Box). When you go on a guided tour with us, your money gets reinvested in Alaska.

We also donate 1% of our sales to local Alaska non-profits who are working to fight pressing environmental issues in Alaska through 1% for the Planet. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s amounted to over $50,000 in the past 5 years. There is nothing more Alaskan than fighting for the protection of our wild places & people. Join us and get involved with one of our incredible non-profit partners: Alaska Conservation Foundation, Renewable Energy Alaska Project, North Gulf Oceanic Society.

Finally, did you know that 81% of Alaskans participate in outdoor recreation? And outdoor recreation spending accounts for $3.4 billion a year and provides over 38,000 jobs in Alaska? Those are some crazy stats! And if only 50% of all Alaskans that participate in outdoor recreation spent one additional day on a recreation trip, it would generate over $34 million dollars annually. Could you imagine infusing our local Alaskan economies with this money? That one extra day would also generate over 600 new jobs. There are huge benefits to our local economies when we play outside and hire a guide. Learn more about the economic impacts of outdoor recreation here in Alaska, from this recent study by UAA and the Center for Economic Development.

3) Let us take care of the details

We will get up early to check the weather and tides, and make the best paddling game plan for the day, all while you’re still dreaming. Let us pack the gear and ready the boats, pour the kiddos a cup of hot cocoa, and clean up when the day is done.

Allow us to take care of the safety, gear, and other trip details, which will enable you to sit back and take in all that your incredible home state has to offer. Relax, enjoy, and be present as you paddle along and learn more about our incredible home.

Feel confident while you’re on the water that your guide has gone through the most extensive training in the area. They can share inspiring stories of the area, make weather calls and trip specific decisions all while keeping an eye out for curious harbor seals and soaring bald eagles.

4) Dear Alaska, discounts won’t save us.

As a small business owner, I’ve watched competitors & other tour operators slash prices, offering trips below 50% the normal price tag. I’ve read the countless news articles that focus only on these deals, fueling the fire of the Alaska discount craze. But we aren’t doing any of that. Our company values haven’t changed because of this pandemic, if anything they have only gotten stronger, and the same goes for the value of our trips.

We pay our guides a living wage. We offset the carbon emissions from our guides’ water taxi rides as we work our way towards becoming a carbon neutral business. We donate money to local Alaska-based non-profits. These are our values and we won’t sacrifice our values, or take money away from them, just to sell a few extra tours. Our prices aren’t inflated for out-of-state tourists and the value of our tours hasn’t changed because Alaskans are now our primary guests. During these times, facilitating meaningful experiences in the outdoors holds more value than ever before.

Our tours are also more expensive to run than ever before. From PPE supplies to the extra time setting up and cleaning up after tours, running trips isn’t any cheaper, it’s more expensive. We are constantly challenged with ever changing logistics, regulations, and painful cancellations. Let’s move the conversation and shift the mindset away from searching for the deepest deal to finding ways we can support value-based Alaskan owned businesses.

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When this pandemic started taking hold of our country, we thought about not even opening. We knew we could ride out the summer, go on personal adventures, and not have to worry about COVID-19 protocols, or how to keep guides working and guests safe.

However we were put on this earth to facilitate meaningful experiences in the outdoors. What kind of an example would we be setting if we gave up when things got tough? We realize that connecting people with the outdoors is more important now than ever before and that’s why we are running trips, despite the extra challenges.

In the past few days we have been fortunate enough to take a number of Alaskans kayaking. We showed a 60-year-old elementary school teacher from Wasilla that learning a new sport is not outside of her capabilities. We taught a 7 year old from Fairbanks that while sea stars are cute, they are also the apex predator of the inter-tidal zone.

We connected Alaskans to a piece of themselves they had lost, but had not yet realized was missing. We glided silently in the waters of Resurrection Bay, grateful for this inspiring place we are so lucky to call home.

This summer, I encourage you to come see this place as if for the first time, to hire a guide, so you get to know a different side of Seward. Leave with a new understanding of not only Seward, but of our home: Alaska.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will arrive to where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T.S. Elliot

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