The project has also enhanced other private sector development. Hoonah now boasts local restaurants, small stores, artisan sales, and other visitor industry support businesses, as well as a constant cash injection from visitors at the local store. Summer employment is available to the local populations, and community residents have received visitor industry training in areas such as booking tours, tour guiding, waiting tables, and running cash registers. College students in particular have benefited from the value of these transferable skills while away from home.
Huna Totem carefully planned and developed its logistical and managerial capabilities to operate the dock, deliver the tours, and staff the gift stores and restaurants at this commercial tour facility. The company focused on local hire because they wanted visitors to be hosted by local residents and shareholders who could tell the story of their own Tlingit history, culture and traditions.
Staffing. The process of recruiting, training, and retaining workers was challenging. Cruise passengers expect engaging, well-spoken guides. The local applicant pool was small, and many had to be trained prior to being ready to work. All applicants were interviewed in the first year, and nearly all without criminal records were hired. Huna Totem then contracted with experienced trainers to provide training and guidance to staff on the needs and expectations of cruise ship visitors.
The first few weeks in 2004 were difficult, as the newly acquired skills of employees were put to the test. While the number of visitors was known and staff training had emphasized customer service, responding to the needs of hundreds of visitors at the same time was stressful for both employees and the community. Hoonah residents did not expect visitors to walk into the village and just mill around. By the second year, the company had developed a village tour to provide visitors with a more structured way of interacting with community residents.
Construction. Huna Totem also struggled to complete the facilities in time for the 2004 opening. They used the expertise of outside engineers and contractors and local laborers to construct the facilities, but it was extremely challenging to convert the cannery and equipment and build the dock, restaurants, shop, and theater by opening day. Other cruise ship stops take place in communities with existing facilities and dozens of independently owned businesses.
As the only privately owned cruise port in Alaska, it was also difficult to market the destination to cruise companies. Royal Caribbean’s 2002 decision to make Hoonah a stop followed many years of conversations with cruise ship companies about the attraction of a remote setting that combined a Tlingit cultural experience with natural resources such as fishing, bear viewing, whale watching, and hiking. By 2007, bookings were also coming from Celebrity, Holland American, and Princess. While cruise companies are free to choose their destinations, Huna Totem research reports that Icy Strait is regarded as one of the friendliest places that cruise passengers visit in Alaska. Increased bookings from the cruise industry suggest that it recognized Hoonah as a destination of value to their customers.