Monday, May 09, 2005

"Passport Alaska"

Maybe you've seen the "Passport Alaska" before and wondered how it came about and what happened to it. I sold 25,000 of them in Alaska in the three years I had them in the gift shops there, but it wasn't a stand-alone business as it turned out. I might have been if the cruise lines didn't have a policy of getting all their Alaskana from Taiwan manufacturers. They bring in the bulk of the visitors and pretty much keep them captive in their facilities. In Southeast Alaska the cruise ships do let the visitors wander around in the bigger ports where they stop, to shop, flightsee or whatever. Well, I won't get into a whole narrative here on independent travel as opposed to hearded travel.

This will be the first of the projects I'll describe that I've completed in the past. This one started in 1990 when I was in between running Capitol Seafoods and managing the Fisheries Infrastructure capital project for the state. It is one of my favorite projects, because of the way I heard God tell me to "start writing" and then seeing it become maybe the top selling gift item in the 100 gift shops we put it in.

Starting this Blog project is really the outgrowth of thinking how I could start getting it out again. I wouldn't be able to get a loan to get it going now like I did at first when I had a state job. Getting that loan was a miracle in itself; a loan on just a concept. I had been a loan officer and collateral control officer at a commercial bank for five years, so I knew I was doing good to get that loan.

We had been back to Wisconsin to meet the in-laws that spring, while waiting for the state funding to go through for the infrastructure research project. Kathleen had been getting premature contractions carring Elias about this time. We contacted an herbalist on Bainbridge Island, WA who sent up a little bottle of twelve extracts, including ladies mantle. That knocked out the contractions and we flew to Wisconsin shortly after to spend ten days.

In our travels around Wisconsin in a motor home we found a Wisconsin memento passport. Jesse, our oldest son, was eight at the time and latched onto that Passport like a vice grip pliers. We thought it was a good concept for an Alaska memento but we were busy for the next six months with a new baby and a new job that required a lot of travel. One day in he first week of January, 1991, Kathleen and Jesse prayed about our making a "passport" for Alaska. As it turned out, God had spoken to me the same minute that they prayed; they on the Douglas side of the channel and me in the State Office Building.

So, what choice did I have then. It took until spring to do the research and get mock-ups and the loan. Then the printer kept putting the passport under the pile of state printing jobs, so we didn't get it printed until fall. The last of the tourists that year who did see it were ecstatic about it. I'll never forget the old boy I watched that picked one out of the display at the DIPAC Aquarium in Juneau, glance through it, then slammed it on the counter, and deftly whipped out his wallet. I knew then we got it right.

The problem with the Wisconsin passport was that every two pages were dedicated to a different state symbol. Someone had to really dig for symbols to fill the little booklet, so you ended up having two pages on the state dirt, the state bug and so on. I was struck with the idea of just using color photos and bullets of information. Alaska is so big that a lot of unusual things have happened. Like the wave that measured 1,740 feet high, or the gold nugget that was found by a man digging a post hole that was seven inches long, four inches wide and three inches thick.

My dedication to the project only increased when I found people that either didn't know what currency Alaska used or even where Alaska was. (Hence the polar view of Alaska on the map page.) The basic idea was to generate an excitement for Alaska while making a little money at the same time. This proved to be right on the money, especially when the Alaska Convention and Visitors Bureau started buying them by the thousands to give away. They would take them to luncheons they would sponsor in places like Washington D.C., Chicago or Los Angeles for travel agents and tour wholesalers. They would put one by every plate for a couple hundred people at a time. They wrote me later saying that they thought they were getting conventions to Anchorage because of the Passport.

It turned out to be a 32 page booklet with 19 color pictures and the rest bullets of information, lists of trophy fish, places to go and things to do, and some other basic information like climate in the various regions. I wanted to use the title "Alaska Passport" on a blue cover at first. That evolved into a maroon cover and then to "Passport Alaska." I discovered that somebody had made an "Alaska Passport" with blank pages for getting stamped everywhere they went. When we started selling ours to the gift shops, the shop owners were still furious over getting stuck with the other version which was a commercial flop. These people apparently had a business advice radio show too. The new title was a good switch because nobody asked "whats this?" when they saw it on my desk at the state after that.

I only relate the next little story because 85% of all you are professed Christians. The other 15% will just have to grin and bear it. This is the explanation for the logo on the back of the Passport. I was nodding off at the kitchen table one day while I was developing the booklet and had a vision of that logo. It was on the back of a Passport that was really beat up. The line segments that look like they radiate out in four direction from the center were puslating as if alive. I had an artist render the design so we could have a die made to stamp the back covers with. The venture now had a logo, which reminded a Division of Tourism person of something out of Hollywood, so I named the whole venture Coming Attractions.

I left the state in the early spring of '92, after finishing up my fisheries association white paper. We figured we'd drive the highway system in Alaska and sell "Passport Alaska"s to the gift shops. We were able to pick up a motor home at the last minute and off we went. Great time. The kids fit like a glove in that rig. (They'd have to stoop to get in the door now.) We got all the way to the Homer Spit from Skagway and had about a 97% success rate. There was a snafu with the printer that summer as well as the prior one, and each summer after that. Meaning we ran out of passports in the peak of the visitor season without fail.

ACVB bought a lot of passports, but sure weren't willing to help with a reprint. Well, that little policy of theirs wouldn't have cost them any more money and it probably cost the state another convention or two. And maybe I wouldn't have gotten so fed up with agencies and printing companies playing Mr. Big Shot and kept it on the market. I'm actually trying to be positive here. The concensus is that there is way too much criticism in the blogosphere and not enough leadership (is there any?). One reason for even writing all this about the Passport is that it is a classic example of product development that created new demand.

There were two gubanatorial candidates in one campaign that used the Passport for their purposes. One used it as a conversation starter on a trip to the Med. The other held it up on TV and used it as an example of a business start that doesn't harm the environment. (You can probably guess what party that was.) One B&B gave them away to special guests. One jewlery store gave them to customers that would plunk down many hundreds of dollars for gold nugget jewelry. (That's the store in Juneau that heard a French tourist comment on the Passport, "this is the best thing since peanut butter.")

So where does the Passport go from here? God only knows. I'd thought of starting to print them again and offer them on a web site, but that's really messy. I could print them and drive to Alaska and put them in all the gift shops again, which would be expensive too. Or I could post a picture of it on this blog and see what happens. Hmmmm. I might be able to make it downloadable right off this blog. The actual hard copies are really cute though. I needed to round a few Passports up once when I ran out and all my friends knew exactly what drawer or box, (usually the underwear drawer) that they were in, even years after I gave it to them.

I at least want to give my partners in adventure back to Alaska a copy each, whoever they might be. I always got a lot of pleasure giving them away. Maybe the Passport ties in with the urge I have to take some folks on a trip to Alaska that's really tailored to them, and not for the convenience of the guide.


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