Entrée Destinations designs custom deluxe travel experiences to Alaska and Canada. President Marc Télio tells us about what inspired the company 20 years ago, and what still inspires him today about these vast, beautiful and untamed locations.
What’s the driving spark behind Entrée Destinations?
It’s to show guests what we’re made of, giving them reasons to realize why they booked with us. And to make them our guests in Canada and Alaska, seamlessly exposing them to the most outstanding experiences and destinations we can find. We love sending guests to the wonderful collection of partners we have who make the journey so memorable and meaningful, the network of hoteliers, lodge owners, sales managers, pilots, food servers, guides, drivers and hundreds of people across Canada and Alaska who deliver such exceptional experiences to our guests. So the driving spark is achieving that—doing our best for the guests who entrust their travel with us, not cutting corners and connecting them to our top tourism partners for exceptional travel experiences.
What fascinates you most about Canada and Alaska?
Roughly 80 to 90 percent of Canada and Alaska is uninhabited.
Roughly 80 to 90 percent of Canada and Alaska is uninhabited. The sheer size of the territory is so hard to explain, one has to experience it to get it. You can fly for hours from point to point and would see nothing below but moose, glaciers, forest, tons of wildlife and pristine natural environment. And of course there are compelling people, locals and communities. Alaskans live for the land. They are true blue people who love living there, and sharing their way of life. It is infectious. And Canada is a lovely mosaic of people and cultures who preserve their ways while being distinctly Canadian. We have more than 600 different native bands across the country, each with their own language, art, customs and music. And the provinces and territories all have their own culture, geography and attributes.
What are some of your favorite “undiscovered” experiences?
In Alaska we love the Wrangell–St. Elias National Park; it is largest national park in the United States at over 13 million acres. It is filled with endless snow-capped peaks, pristine glaciers, herds of mountain caribou and thick forests. The scale of Wrangell–St. Elias is astounding—the equivalent of about six Yellowstone National Parks or roughly the size of Switzerland—and yet it gets less than 80,000 visitors per year. Whether at a remote luxury lodge or at a simple hotel in the one “town” located in the park, visitors will be glad they made the investment of time and budget to make it there. Also, while Kodiak is not “undiscovered,” one of our favorite new lodges is located there in the middle of the island. It is so remote that after three days of being there, I only saw two other people aside from the lodge staff—my pilot and the neighboring fish and wildlife officer. Truly, I saw three times as many bears as people—it is magical in its solitude and beauty!
In Canada I love exposing our guests to the Fogo Island Inn, on the dramatic coastline of Newfoundland. Canada is full of spectacular Aboriginal experiences, as well. We have only begun to uncover a fraction of those available and it’s soulful, touching and real. And when you are touring in native traditional territories (like the spectacular Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia), not having interaction with the indigenous people of the region is a shame; it feels wrong. Hearing their thoughts on the grizzly that is eating a salmon 10 feet away is pretty fascinating.
What are some of the biggest draws for families traveling together?
It’s all about shared experiences, and we love delivering those from wilderness lodges when possible.
It’s all about shared experiences, and we love delivering those from wilderness lodges when possible. This is a priority for our guests. We provide moments where guests unwind together in a stunning setting; listening to nothing but birds, the sound of a river running and the sounds of remote nature. Family favorites for us include bear viewing, whale watching, hiking, kayaking or anything that involves a helicopter or a seaplane, where we access faraway places. Heli-picnic? Very exciting for families! Another nostalgic trend we’ve seen this summer is the classic father/son or daughter fishing trip. I’ve done this many times with each of my children and it is a wonderful “old-school” way to bond, especially when we can orchestrate a successful bounty of fish—that makes for lots of big stories.
Thrilling wildlife features throughout many of your offered journeys—polar bears, grizzlies, orcas. How close are you really to these huge predators?
Proximity to wildlife always begins with respect and understanding for the animal and their habitat. Some people have a spa voice; I have a bearwatching voice (calm, warm and barely a whisper—it resembles my golf voice). Remembering always that we deal with wild animals that are often unpredictable means that we always exercise caution, never making the animal uncomfortable and always having safety in mind. All to ensure that we don’t become a bad experience for them; we want them co-existing with us, not avoiding us. All of this said, when a predator comes your way, we must let him do his thing. Running away will make the animal feel they should be chasing you. With that, I’ve been approached by polar bears, grizzly bears and black bears, all within 10 feet and it’s the most exhilarating feeling. I’ve actually let a mama grizzly bear sniff my boot, always with an armed guide nearby, watching closely. I’ve watched an agitated black bear jump out of the bushes 15 feet away from my family and he went on to catch salmon in the river. The ideal range for bears is 20 feet or further. It allows for great photography, perfect viewing and still a comfortable distance.
Whales are also unpredictable; you might be viewing one that is a respectful 50 yards away, only to have him go down and surface next to your boat. This past summer I had the pleasure of sniffing the breath of a humpback whale, something I’ll never forget. One of my colleagues recounts her favorite whale story from Bartlett’s Cove in Glacier Bay National Park: She was on shore at the campground watching a whale sleep, just a few hundred yards off the coast. She and her friends paddled out to get closer to the sleeping humpback. He woke up, looked at them with one eye and went under water, swimming back and forth under their kayaks several times. While we can’t stage these encounters, the unexpected almost always happens when you’re in a big wildlife habitat.
One of the properties you work with, Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland, was recently awarded Hideaway of the Year by Andrew Harper. What makes this place special? What’s different about eastern Canada from the more common image of British Columbia?
The distance between Eastern Canada (let’s say Fogo Island) and western British Columbia is approximately 5,000 kilometers. That’s the same distance from Athens to New Delhi. As you can imagine with a country so huge, you will find many cultures and geographies that make up the country. From the colorful characters of Newfoundland & Labrador, through Maritime Canada, French Canada, the Prairie Provinces to oil and cowboy country in Alberta and coastal British Columbia there is tremendous diversity in culture, terrain and people. Not to mention the 100,000 people who live in Northern Canada, an area the size of Mexico; the diversity is difficult to grasp.
Fogo Island Inn is absolutely deserving of the award. It is one of my favorite places in Canada for many reasons. First, the people and the welcoming community make you feel at home. The history of the island is also fascinating, from early French fisherman and Portuguese explorers visiting in the 1500s to the first settlements from the British and Irish—most of them after cod and other local resources. Over the next 250 years they almost succeeded at bringing the cod to extinction, as well as all economics and jobs revolving around the cod industry.
Enter a local named Zita Cobb, born and raised on Fogo Island, and the epitome of social economist and community organizer. She left the island to educate herself, then went on to become CFO of a major technology company. She went back to the island, intent on using some of her wealth to boost the local economy. And so she built the inn, offering everybody on the island a job who wanted it. The boat builders who used to build boats for the cod fisherman now had the opportunity to use their skills on the construction of the inn, or on the furniture line they developed; the local artisans formed a cooperative to knit every rug, quilt every bedcover and to restore their culture through the furnishing of the guestrooms and common areas. As they say, it is “made of them,” and no statement could be more accurate.
When the beautiful inn was finally built, Zita donated it to the Shorefast Foundation, owned evenly by everyone in the communities. As much as the story fascinates me, the activities they have created and social interactions are equally worth discussing. They’ve truly made it into a destination.
Click here to read the full interview with Marc Télio in the April, May, June 2015 edition of the Traveler magazine.