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Holland America to buy major Denali National Park hotel

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013 12:00 am

FAIRBANKS — Holland America Line announced plans on Wednesday to add another major hotel to its holdings outside Denali National Park.

The move underscores its parent company’s status as the area’s unquestioned tourism lodging leader. With the planned acquisition of the McKinley Chalet Hotel, Holland America-Princess Alaska will boast more than 1,100 rooms in the Nenana River Canyon, an area informally known as Glitter Gulch.

McKinley Chalets Hotel features 345 of those rooms, along with restaurants, a dinner theater, on-site raft departures and walking trails on a 42-acre site along the Nenana River. An agreement in principle has been reached to buy the properties from Aramark Sports and Entertainment Services, though the purchase hasn’t been completed.

Holland America spokesman Erik Elvejord said the deal will boost the company’s profile in an area that’s an appealing brand-name for visitors. About 400,000 tourists have visited Denali Park annually in recent years, and he said the goal will be to provide them with a “destination experience.”

“There are some parts of the state that are iconic for tourists, and Denali’s one of them,” Elvejord said.

McKinley Chalets is positioned next to the 656-room Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, which is the largest hotel in Alaska. Another adjacent 26-acre property has 135 rooms that are owned by Holland America but have been operated by Aramark.

Elvejord said Holland America plans to upgrade the McKinley Chalets, though specific plans haven’t been finished. The work will coincide with renovations to Westmark hotel sites in other parts of Alaska, including locations in Fairbanks, Skagway and Whitehorse.

The upgrades are part of a larger shift for Holland America, which is rebranding its Alaska cruise program with the new name Land+Sea Journeys. The move will focus travelers more on inland destinations such as Denali, Fairbanks and Dawson City, while cutting back on the time spent between those destinations. Visitors will fly between Fairbanks and Dawson in the future, for example, rather than driving on a tour bus.

Expanding its properties in areas such as Denali, which boost Holland America-Princess Alaska’s visitor capacity, is an important piece of that shift, Elvejord said.

“The goal is, how do we expose more people to the product, to Interior Alaska, to the Yukon?” he said.

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMbusiness.

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