Cruising in the Yukon

Imagine a job where your training involves travelling around the Mediterranean or Baltic seas. n this fantasy world, cruising through Alaska can be written off as "market research" and spending a week lounging in the Caribbean costs you relatively little.

Imagine a job where your training involves travelling around the Mediterranean or Baltic seas.

In this fantasy world, cruising through Alaska can be written off as “market research” and spending a week lounging in the Caribbean costs you relatively little.

This is what Erik and Kim Hougen offer certain folk that wander into the Yukon’s new Expedia CruiseShipCenters: the chance to become one of their cruise consultants.

It caught me completely unprepared.

I was there to do an interview, I just didn’t think it was going to be a job interview.

The Hougens opened the doors to their new cruise-oriented travel agency on the corner of Second and Alexander more than four months ago.

And even though they already have seven of these cruise consultants working for them, part-time, throughout the North, they’re always looking for more.

These consultants get trained online and at sea, working for commission and benefits such as huge discounts on their own cruises.

So why does land-locked Whitehorse need a cruise-specific travel agency?

And why does Expedia, an internet-based travel site, need a brick-and-mortar store?

The travel industry has evolved with the internet, Erik explains.

As the internet became easier to use and more trusted, all aspects of travel began to sell easily online.

With the click of a button, travellers could book their flight, hotel, car rental, tours and insurance.

But the one thing that Expedia was having trouble pushing was cruises.

“It’s simple to book a hotel, but cruises are difficult,” said Erik.

“You have to get the right itinerary, on the right ship, with the right cruise line …”

“It’s not a commodity like those other things – it’s an entire experience,” he continued.

“And if we do our job you’ll be one of the 92 per cent of people who enjoy that experience.”

Expedia looked around for someone to help them with their ailing cruise ship sales and ended up partnering with CruiseShipCenters, a Vancouver-based company.

The Hougens now own the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise for all three territories in the Canadian North.

So while they’re not expanding into Nunavut just yet, if someone in Iqaluit is looking for a cruise on Expedia they’ll be directed to the office here in Whitehorse.

And the Hougens are looking for cruise consultants there.

The Hougens, who are well travelled and have been on more than 20 cruises, are now trying to share their passion with the North.

“We’ve always worked to travel,” said Erik, who also owns Erik’s Electronics.

“Now we’re working in travel.”

Since the centre opened its doors in May, the majority of Yukoners have decided to head to France for their cruise.

This, coincidentally or not, also happens to be Erik’s favourite place to visit, having taken over his father’s role as the Yukon’s honourary French consul.

He’s also trying to encourage Yukoners to discover their own backyard and take an Alaskan cruise.

“It’s a lot of fun talking to people about their travel plans,” said Erik.

“And in many instances, I’ve been fortunate enough to have already been there, so I can easily answer any questions they might have.”

The Hougens became interested in the cruise ship industry three years ago, while planning a vacation for their 32-person extended family.

Erik was trying to get the best deal by dealing directly with the cruise lines.

But no matter how hard he tried, the best deals were still with CruiseShipCenters, which buys its tickets early and in bulk.

The trip was a huge success with the entire family, and they continued to cruise.

By the end of this year, Erik and Kim will have gone on five cruises.

Two of the trips will be “business” with Expedia CruiseShipCenters and two will be personal, or as the family calls it: “market research.”

The fifth this year will be the maiden voyage of the worlds largest cruise ship, in early December.

This ship will have its own Central Park with 2000 bushes and trees, a high-dive pool and four bowling alleys, among other things.

The invitation to attend the inaugural voyage is just one of the perks of working in the industry.

Only 15 per cent of Canadians have ever gone on a cruise, said Erik.

This is because of misconceptions of what a cruise is and what they can offer.

“People just think of old people and big ships,” he said.

“But the whole demographic has changed.”

The average age of cruise ship passenger used to be around 60.

Now, the average is closer to 40 years old and some cruise lines catering to young vacationers are filling their ships with 20 and 30-somethings.

Some cruise ships come equipped with climbing walls, zip lines, bowling alleys and wave pools.

And there are also yacht cruises, just in case sailing with thousands of other passengers isn’t your idea of an intimate vacation.

There are experiential cruises, seminars at sea, university at sea and even world cruises that last up to 107 days.

All of the options and choices out there make it difficult to plan your own cruise vacation.

That’s where cruise consultants and specialists come in.

And because of the trouble with the US economy, prices have been going down as cruise lines struggle to fill their ships.

“It’s at the point now where you can actually cruise for less then it costs to live at home when you factor in travel, food and entertainment.”

How much is going to cost you for a cruise down the Yukon River?

Nothing’s being offered yet, said Erik.

But you can always just stick your canoe in the river.

Contact Chris Oke at chriso@yukon-news.com