Colleen Stephens is president of Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises in Valdez, Alaska. She has also served on the board of directors of the Alaska Travel Industry Association and Valdez Convention and Visitors Bureau, working to market and develop tourism in Valdez and Alaska.
Q: How did you get your start in the travel and tourism industry?
Colleen Stephens: I have had the privilege of growing up in the industry, specifically the Alaska travel and tourism industry. Our family began operating glacier and wildlife cruises in 1978, so I have been on board our vessels since I was 7 years old. (I hope I am a bigger help to my family today than I was back then!) Over the years, I have witnessed developments and changes in an industry that has provided me with amazing personal and professional opportunities.
Q. What does Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises offer to its customers and community that is unique?
CS: We are very proud of the customer service we provide to our guests, as well as the fact that our coworkers are Alaskans and mostly from Valdez. My family created our company and, for the first few years, the only “employees” were my parents, my two sisters, and me. As the company grew, our goal was to keep our culture of “family” intact. Today, we encourage our coworkers to welcome our guests as they would someone visiting their own home, with the equivalent of home being our vessels and Prince William Sound. This means when guests travel with us, they are being hosted by locals who can tell the story of Alaska based on their personal knowledge and experience.
For our community, our coworkers are dedicated to the health of Valdez, Prince William Sound, and Alaska. We commit our personal time and energy to organizations that work to ensure that the Sound is protected for future generations, that we have strong fisheries, and that we have a safe place to recreate year-round for both residents and travelers.
Q. Describe your leadership philosophy.
CS: Some may tell you that this is my biggest flaw or weakness, but I try to lead by participating. I watched my father and mother do a bit of everything. This willingness truly motivated others, including myself, to step up and do what was needed. I have tried to take their philosophy and enact it. On any given day during our summer season, I may work check-in, drive our shuttle, clean a boat, or work as a deckhand. I try to instill in my coworkers the concept that we all have unique jobs, none of which is more important than the other.
Q. What advice do you have for someone just starting out in the motorcoach, travel, and tourism industry?
CS: Get out there! This industry is based on relationships, and you never know where a connection may be made. Although it may be challenging to break into the network at first, once you do, you will find friends and colleagues for life.
Q. Why did you get involved in ABA’s Women in Buses?
CS: I must give credit to my good friend Elizabeth Hall [chief operating officer at John Hall’s Alaska], who encouraged me to join. She gently nudged me and reminded me of what I stated above about relationships. We need to continue to network, learn, and support one another.
Q. What industry issue would you most like to see resolved, and why?
CS: Even though I know it is a dream, I would love to see the battle that many destinations face to secure proper funding for marketing and promotion settled. The challenges accessing the funding differ in each city, region, state, or country, yet the potential negative impacts from less funding are the same.