Alaska On Tour

Alaskan tour operator opens market to African Americans

Before Grady O’Bryant came along, Fairbanks, Alaska, was a town with a lot of unhappy tourists. To get to favorite sightseeing spots, visitors had to hire taxis, which were often inefficient and overpriced. As a supply sergeant in the U.S. Air Force who also worked part-time in 1992 as a bellhop at a local hotel, O’Bryant witnessed tourists’ frustrations and spotted an opportunity.

“I asked local hotels what kinds of services were needed, and an overwhelming number responded that a tourist shuttle service in Fairbanks would be a great idea,” O’Bryant says. Soon after, he joined the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau to begin building contacts. In 1993, with help from his wife, Gina, and $10,000 in family savings, he founded G.O. Transportation Services, a tour company that did what the taxi owners could not–provide affordable, comfortable, efficient transportation to favorite tourist destinations.

Before he could get on the road, however, he first had to battle the taxi owners in court, who disputed his efforts to enter their territory. In 1995, a Fairbanks judge ruled that a shuttle service was a legitimate enterprise. Vindicated, O’Bryant forged on, and last year his company was named Fairbanks’ Best New Visitor-Industry Business.

The pioneering and innovative spirit has been with O’Bryant for as long as he can remember. As a teenager in Brooklyn, New York, he organized trips to amusement parks in New Jersey for his family and friends.

Today, G.O. Transportation Services has grown from a company with two 15-passenger vans and two employees–the O’Bryants–to a fleet of eight vans and buses and a full-time staff of two year-round. More than 20 seasonal full-time employees also work during Alaska’s four-month tourist season, which runs from mid-May to mid-September. Initially, he had to finance all of his expenses, but after two years, O’Bryant obtained a $100,000 loan from the Small Business Administration. In 1997, his company took in $250,000 in revenues–90% of it during Alaska’s tourist season.

Next year O’Bryant projects a 30% increase in revenues because this year, in an effort to capitalize on the untapped black travel market, he created Alaska Ebony Tours.

The $2,150 tour O’Bryant offers is an eight-day affair designed specifically for African Americans. It includes visits to the cities of Anchorage, Fairbanks and Seward, and a trip to Denali National Park, home of Mount McKinley. In addition, travelers are taken to sites that highlight the historic contributions blacks have made to Alaska.

“With Alaska Ebony Tours, I’ve gone all out to design a tour I knew my family and friends in Brooklyn–the same ones that went on my teenage chartered trips–would enjoy,” O’Bryant says. The first Alaska Ebony Tours are scheduled for next summer.

G.O. Transportation Services, P.O. Box 74712, Fairbanks, AK 99707; 800-478-3847 or 907-474-3847

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