Anchorage-based Alaska Helicopter Tours experienced a 250% boom in 2021 sales compared to 2019.
Hiring enough ground staff was the company’s biggest challenge during the surge in demand.
The operator is expecting a strong 2022 season, with presales already doubling 2021.
The pandemic wrecked the tourism industry in the northern-most US state of Alaska, but it’s seeing a speedy recovery with one tourism company more than doubling its 2019 sales this year.
Anchorage-based Alaska Helicopter Tours is a flightseeing company that flies adventurous customers across the beautiful state, offering aerial views of places like Denali National Park, as well as glacier hiking and dogsled tours.
Like many other companies across the country, the operator was a victim of the coronavirus pandemic, having temporarily lost its allowance to serve tourists. However, it was fortunate to be able to operate as an essential service flying for the local electric company on behalf of its parent organization, Alpha Aviation.
Following strict health and safety protocols as a utility service, Alaska Helicopter Tours was granted a waiver at the end of March 2020 by the state’s Congress to offer flight tours to local Alaskans. According to the company’s Director of Operations, Jennifer Hanks, who was born and raised in the state, the service helped keep the business going.
“We could offer something for locals to do to get out of their house,” Hanks told Insider. “We were one of the first companies to be up and running and it was really nice to be able to open our doors to local Alaskans.”
While the company was able to continue business during the pandemic, which was a rarity for tourism operators, it did not expect a huge travel surge in 2021. But, by January, it was clear Alaska Helicopter Tours was in for a big year.
“We thought it was going to be pandemic style with not many employees and not many helicopters on the tourism side, but we ended up having the craziest, busiest year ever,” Hanks told Insider. “2019 was our busiest season and we are already two and half times over that in sales for 2021. And, for 2022, our presales are already double what they were this year.”
Hanks explained that the surge comes from people desperate for a vacation and finally being able to travel again. She said a chunk of their guests were big families, and she believes that the airlines offering deals on flights helped people visit the state at a lower cost.
With the spike in sales came challenges, including finding enough labor and resources to meet demand. Before the pandemic, the company operated a fleet of three helicopters, including two Robinson R44s and one A-Star Helicopter, but had to add one more of each to handle the surge. The company also plans to grow the fleet event more due to the booming 2022 presales.
Though the company’s business is growing, Alaska Helicopter Tours is no stranger to the labor shortage. Hanks told Insider that the company’s biggest hurdle during the surge was hiring ground staff.
“Just like everywhere in the US, we could not find people because the hiring pool was very small and a lot of people were on unemployment,” she explained. “A lot of Alaska’s employees are also J1 [international] students, but they couldn’t enter the US, so we did a lot of local advertising and got set up on Indeed.”
According to Hanks, finding pilots was not an issue because having “Alaska time” for flight is a big benefit for their resumes.
Going into 2022, Alaska Helicopter Tours is cautious about the new COVID-19 Omicron variant, but it still expects a strong season.
“Realistically, the 2022 sales will be about 30% above what we did this year,” Hanks told Insider.
“One simple way to describe the value of a Therme is it’s the antidote to the meta universe that Mark Zuckerberg just announced,” John Alschuler, the incoming Therme North America executive chairman, told Insider in an interview. “This is about an actual experience that can’t be and shouldn’t be digitized.”
Opening a quiet refuge in one of the world’s most bustling cities isn’t an easy endeavor.
To do so, Therme has tapped Robert Hammond, the co-founder of another NYC haven, the High Line park, to join the team …
… with the hopes that Hammond can bring the High Line’s design and emphasis of nature and community to Therme New York.
“All those things together, to me, is what makes the High Line and what will make Therme,” Hammond told Insider in an interview.
In April 2022, Hammond will leave his post as the executive director at the High Line to serve as Therme North America’s president and chief strategy officer.
The company — which can best be summarized by its “wellbeing for all” motto — currently has several locations around the world, specifically In Romania and Germany.
Its Bucharest, Romania location was the country’s “most popular attraction from 2016 to 2018, welcoming over one million guests in the first year of operation,” according to the company’s website.
This stateside Therme is still being designed, but it could take after the other centers, which combine live plants and large glass walls to create a bright, relaxing, nature-centered space.
Therme’s self-proclaimed “well-being center” in New York will be a combination of a family-friendly water park, meditation space, botanical garden, gym, spa, communal thermal bathhouse, and art gallery.
Together, all of these amenities will create a “wellbeing facility” that could be embraced by New Yorkers, Alschuler says.
“There’s a very strong demand from whole segments of America for this kind of experience, just fragmented, ” Alschuler said. “So when you put it together, the demand becomes exponentially stronger.”
The tradition of communal bathing has existed for centuries, from ancient Roman baths to Japanese onsens.
Communal bathing centers currently aren’t that popular across the US. But Americans love water parks, which is close enough: “I don’t think it’s a dramatic discontinuity with what Americans currently do,” Alschuler noted.
Therme’s goal is to “bring back the essence of these global bathing traditions,” according to its website.
“There’s a theme park component of this … and Americans love theme parks,” Alschuler said. “Americans flock in large numbers to Miami and the southwest to be outdoors in water, and that’s what we will have in New Yorkers’ backyards.”
The New York location specifically will reflect the “emotion, taste, and sensibility of the city,” Alschuler said, noting that the High Line — a public park that melds nature with the city — is an example of this sentiment.
And unlike other spas that primarily target adults with deeper pocketbooks, Therme wants to make its New York center widely accessible.
Entry into Therme New York will start at about $40. This price then increases when specialized services like a massage are added on.
“This is not an elite experience,” Alschuler said. “This is not for the Lululemon culture. It’s an inclusive experience that people of different ages, incomes, cultural, and racial experiences can all come and enjoy.”
Unsurprisingly, all of the facility’s amenities will take up a decent chunk of square footage, something New York City doesn’t have much of anymore.
The team is still looking for an ideal location in the city, but “there is no five-acre site waiting to be developed in the middle of Manhattan,” Hammond said.
Hammond believes the facility will likely end up in an old repurposed industrial building, while Alschuler says he could see Therme in a Manhattan skyscraper or on an abandoned pier.
The team is still figuring out the logistics and layout of the New York location, but one thing’s for sure: the New York location will likely have to be more vertical than Therme’s other centers.
“We’re going to be a New York institution, so we will adopt … New York’s building typology, which is vertical,” Alschuler said.
As of now, Alschuler estimates the project will cost about $300 million to $350 million to construct.
“What’s special about the Therme is that it takes combinations that are very familiar [to Americans] and combines them in a way that’s magical and new,” he said.
Iceland tourist body released a new ad on Thursday.
The video is a parody of Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook was changing its name to Meta.
It pokes fun at Zuckerberg’s ambitions to make Meta a metaverse company.
An Iceland tourism body on Thursday released a promotional video of the country directly parodying Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
In the video a Zuckerberg lookalike – dubbed “Zack Mossbergsson” – pokes fun at the stiltedness of Zuckerberg’s announcement late last month that Facebook was changing its name to Meta. “Hello and welcome to this very natural setting,” the presenter says.
“Today I want to talk about a revolutionary approach to connect our world without being super weird,” he adds.
The Zuckerberg-alike then goes on to introduce the “Icelandverse,” a clear parody of Zuckerberg’s metaverse ambitions.
The video was produced by Inspired by Iceland, a public-private entity that promotes Iceland and its products.
The word metaverse is a term borrowed from science-fiction, and refers to a future version of the internet that people access through virtual and augmented reality. Zuckerberg said during the rebrand announcement last month he wants Meta to be “metaverse first, not Facebook first.”
The presenter in the Iceland ad describes the Icelandverse as “enhanced actual reality without silly-looking headsets.”
According to recent data from Airbnb, bookings from foreign guests rose 44% immediately following the initial announcement that the US would relax international travel restrictions to 33 countries beginning November 8. In a report shared on Tuesday, the company said it’s seen a rise in cross-border traveling, with an uptick of guests booking trips over 3,000 miles from home.
Many of these trips are to the US, which “historically is the largest inbound travel market in the world,” Airbnb wrote in the report. “As countries around the world start to loosen their travel restrictions, we’ve been seeing sudden increases in interest in these countries.”
Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research, told Insider that he anticipates the pace of recovery will be a “bit of a rollercoaster” in the coming months.
“We’re probably are going to see a surge of demand now and possibly another surge around Christmas,” Harteveldt said. “I really anticipate 2022 will be a year of steady, progressive improvement in business, with more people coming from abroad.”
Domestic bookings are also on the rise, the report found, with a 40% increase in bookings for Thanksgiving week alone as Americans look to spend time with family during the holidays amid increased national vaccination rates.
The arrival of international visitors is expected to be a major boost for local economies and industries including tourism, retail, and hospitality which largely suffered during the pandemic. According to Harteveldt, global travelers are likely to bring an influx of spending ahead of the holiday season, as international travelers “tend to spend money in the neighborhood where they stay.”
And while Airbnb was able to attract travelers looking for a change of scenery or a fresh place to work from home during the pandemic, Harteveldt said the company still faces several challenges as it continues to recuperate from pandemic-era losses.
One such challenge is meeting booking demand as the company rebuilds relationships with hosts after it unilaterally returned travel deposits from hosts to customers at the start of pandemic lockdowns. Additionally, some consumers are wary of a possible COVID-19 winter surge, which could add another obstacle for the travel industry’s recovery if restrictions are possibly reimposed in the future.
“There’s still some challenges out there that Airbnb people face and it won’t be all entirely smooth-sailing for the category,” Harteveldt said. “But I think Airbnb is prepared financially from a marketing standpoint to compete for business, and I think will be successful in attracting customers.”
Leaders of the two countries said in a statement the move to resume cross-border travel comes as they “recognised that COVID-19 has disrupted people to people connections between the two countries, and separated families for many months.”
Both countries have made “significant progress” in vaccinating their populations and managing the pandemic, the statement added.
Before the pandemic, the one-hour flight between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur was one of the busiest international air routes in the world with 5.56 million seats available, according to travel data firm OAG. It ranked just behind flights between Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan.
To start, the quarantine-free travel program will only apply to six daily designated services between Singapore’s Changi Airport and Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the statement specified.
While many Malaysians in Singapore welcomed news of the quarantine-free air travel program, some also said they are waiting for the reopening of land borders. Many took to social media, where they noted cost and convenience as factors.
“I would be more excited if the land border is reopening so it would be easier to go home for visits rather than planning a trip around Kuala Lumpur,” Loh Siew Chin, a Malaysian housewife who lives in Singapore, told Insider. She said she used to go home every few weeks, but has not seen her family living in Johor in nearly two years.
“My parents miss their grandchildren,” she added.
The Malaysian state of Johor borders Singapore, with a highway slightly shorter than the Brooklyn Bridge separating the two. Before the pandemic, many Malaysians and Singaporeans would commute to and from the two countries via the bridge – some taking daily trips for work and school, making the land crossing one of the busiest in the world.
Businesses, too, have been affected by cross-border travel restrictions and are looking to further easing of travel rules that will help with supply chains, logistics, and worker movements, reported Singapore’s Business Times.
“The air link will be welcome, but the land link is in dire need by the business community,” Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME), told the news outlet.
The US is easing travel restrictions for most international travelers starting November 8.
The ban will allow air travel from previously restricted countries as long as the traveler has proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a negative test.
Retail and hospitality companies in the US hope the return of international travelers will create a boost for business.
The US is lifting COVID-19 travel restrictions for most foreign travelers starting Monday, a move that many retail and hospitality businesses hope will usher in a new wave of customers as the economy rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic.
Starting November 8, international visitors from 33 countries can again fly into the US as long as the traveler has proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a negative test.
Here’s what you need to know about incoming international travel in the coming months:
What international travelers will need to get into the country
The Biden Administration’s latest travel mandate will require visitors who are non-US citizens flying into the country to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which means they must have received their second vaccine dose two weeks prior to departure. Airline personnel will review proof of vaccine, which must a physical copy, a credible photo, or a digitized copy of a legitimate vaccination record.
Vaccines must be on the list approved by the Food and Drug Administration and those listed for use by the World Health Organization – including Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Covishield, Sinopharm, and Sinovac.
The US will also continue to require proof of a negative COVID test within three days of traveling, either as a rapid antigen or a PCR test. Travelers will also be expected to provide their contact information like email, phone number, and address for contact tracing purposes.
There are several exceptions to general vaccine travel mandates
The US is exempting requirements for visitors from 50 countries with nationwide vaccine rates of less than 10%, including Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Armenia, and Haiti, among others. These travelers will be generally expected to get vaccinated within 60 days of arriving in the US.
International travelers under the age of 18 in countries that have not yet authorized vaccines for children or have low vaccine availability will be exempt from vaccine requirement, but those over the age of two will need to provide proof of a negative COVID test within three days of departure.
Visitors who are not vaccinated due to medical reasons will need to provide a letter to the airline addressed from a medical professional.
Meanwhile, US citizens coming from abroad will not be required to present proof of vaccination, but if they choose not to, they must provide a negative COVID test within one day of traveling.
How incoming travelers will affect businesses ahead of the holiday season
The reopening is also expected to be a major boon for domestic industries, like airlines, hotels, and tourism, which have spent the past year-and-a-half struggling to recover from the impact of COVID-19 induced closures. Retailers are also optimistic that international travelers will also serve as a new wave of spenders as the holiday shopping season nears.
As international tourists visit, that will “give a jolt to the retail side,” National Retail Federation CEO Matt Shay told CNBC. “The return to the service and the experience economy is going to be positive and beneficial for retail and it’s going to be enhanced furthermore by these international visitors returning to the U.S.”
In cities like New York and San Francisco, international travelers will need to be aware that many businesses or indoor gatherings will require proof of vaccination.
Retail rents in Hong Kong’s three prime shopping areas have fallen to their lowest in more than 10 years.
Pro-democracy protests in 2019 and the pandemic have hit tourism hard as Chinese tourists stay away.
Instead, luxury labels are embracing setting up shopfronts in China.
Hong Kong is known for exorbitant real estate prices, but prime retail rent has fallen sharply as money from free-spending tourists from China dries up amid the pandemic.
Along Hong Kong’s Russell Street in Causeway Bay district, owners of shopfronts are slashing rents by close to 80% from their peak eight years ago, Bloomberg reported, citing data from Cushman and Wakefield, a real-estate services firm. It now costs about HK$826 ($106) per square foot to rent a space on Russell Street, down from HK$4,000 ($514) in at the end of 2013.
Russell Street was one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world for shop rentals until 2019, when pro-democracy protests hit business. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 hit the market even more as tourism came to a virtual halt.
Luxury labels that have since moved out of Russell Street include fashion label Prada, watch brands Rolex and Omega, and high-end lingerie label La Perla. The spaces formerly occupied by these high-end brands are being filled up by shops selling items ranging from phone gadgets to affordable women’s wear, reported Bloomberg.
Tents in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bayfell 43% from 2019 to 2020, according to a Cushman and Wakefield report published in April. The shopping districts of Tsim Sha Tsui and Centra also saw steep declines in rental prices. Rents for the three areas are near their lowest in more than a decade, per Bloomberg, citing Cushman and Wakefield data.
Luxury brands have embraced setting up shopfronts in mainland China. From January to end-November, there was close to a 65% on-year surge in luxury shops opening in China, according to Savills, a global property agent. Many of of the major luxury brands were already present in China’s top tier cities, but they have been expanding to lower tier cities to capture more shoppers, the SCMP reported earlier this year.
Hong Kong is now in discussions with China about reopening their shared border, but the pace of development in China is so fast that some are not so optimistic about the recovery of Hong Kong’s retail rents.
“Hong Kong is just one of their options now,” said Robert Ma, a landlord on Russell Street, per Bloomberg.
Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville empire is rapidly expanding with plans to open 50 resorts within 3 years.
The CEO of Margaritaville Holdings says the company is the “fastest-growing hotel brand” in the US.
Take a look inside one of its latest hotels in New York, Margaritaville Resort Times Square.
If you’re looking for a tropical getaway, put your passports away and redirect your flight to New York City.
For the past three months, one of the latest additions to New York’s skyline has been enticing guests to “waste away again” while “watching the sun bake.”
That’s right, Margaritaville: In July, Jimmy Buffett’s themed empire expanded its portfolio into New York with one of its latest hotels, Margaritaville Resort Times Square.
New York City definitely isn’t known for the laid-back tropical lifestyle Margaritaville wants to represent.
But according to John Cohlan, CEO of Margaritaville Holdings, that’s the point.
“New York is certainly a tourist destination and it’s a place where people from all over the world come to sightsee,” Cohlan told Insider. “The idea was you ought to be able to vacation in New York as well.”
The recent Times Square location is just one property in Margaritaville’s greater expansion plan: In the next three years, the brand wants to open 50 resorts.
“I would think we’ve got to be the fastest-growing hotel brand in the country,” Cohlan said. “We’re expanding very very rapidly.”
The Margaritaville company first started over 20 years ago on the heels of Buffett’s hit song.
And since then, the brand has grown into a hospitality giant that operates resorts, vacation homes, timeshares, senior living communities, restaurants, and bars.
It also recently began venturing into the increasingly popular RV industry with branded RV resorts, which has so far been a massive success, Jim Wiseman, the president of development at Camp Margaritaville, previously told Insider.
Besides the New York hotel, Margaritaville has opened multiple properties in 2021 …
… including a resort and water park in Nassau, Bahamas, and a hotel in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.
Let’s take a closer look inside Margaritaville’s Times Square outpost, an over $300 million bet that tourism will soon come flocking back to New York.
Cohlan calls the hotel an “unplugged haven in the middle of your New York experience.”
COVID-19 pushed the hotel’s debut from late-2020 to July 2021 after construction was halted for two weeks at the start of the pandemic, Kori Yoran, the general manager of Margaritaville Resort Times Square, told Insider during a tour of the hotel.
And now, the 32-floor, 234-room hotel stands beside some tourist favorites, including Times Square, Bryant Park, and Broadway theaters.
As expected, the tropical branding is strong throughout the “resort.”
There’s a reminder of Margaritaville and its tropical getaway theme everywhere you look, whether it be in the hotel’s artwork …
… product packaging …
… or restaurant details.
The hotel rooms also reflect this laidback lifestyle with their turquoise, soft wood, and white decor and accents.
Even the room slippers – which have been replaced by soft white flip-flops – serve as another reminder of the tropical themes.
The windows provide a view of the towering New York City skyline, but if the curtains were closed, the room could’ve belonged in a vacation timeshare.
“When you walk in here, you’re instantly transported to a different state,” Yoran said. “If you don’t look outside, you’re like, ‘oh, there’s obviously a beach and water.'”
However, there are still reminders of the hotel’s location speckled throughout the building, like this New Yorker magazine cover shown below.
And inside the two-floor, 468-seat Margaritaville Restaurant, there’s a not-so-subtle 32-foot recreation of the Statue of Liberty holding a glass.
Besides the eponymous restaurant, there are four other dining and bar options, including the rooftop “5 O’Clock Somewhere” bar …
… with an outdoor patio that has views of the One Times Square ball that drops every January 1.
There’s also an outdoor pool with views of the, well, office buildings across the street.
It may not be a beach, but at least it’s heated.
The pool is located at the foot of the 110-seat Landshark Bar and Grill, which is lined with plenty of TV screens for sports viewings.
But if you’d rather hang out at a bar, there’s also the License to Chill, a fifth-floor, 75-seat watering hole with an outdoor patio.
The hotel even has meeting rooms that are patiently awaiting the greater return of corporate travel.
You might not associate work with Margaritaville, but according to Cohlan, the brand’s New York and Nashville locations see some corporate travelers.
As Koran puts it, the New York hotel is a “casual-luxe corporate travel property.”
The slow return of corporate travel aside, Margaritaville has seen plenty of business as leisure travel rapidly recovers.
“I think [leisure travel] came back much stronger than people think, so our business has just performed remarkably well,” Cohlan said. “I wouldn’t be candid with you if I didn’t tell you it was surprising to me.”
So far, the Times Square hotel has been seeing about 40% occupancy, Yoran said.
And lately, every room from Thursday through Sunday has been booked out, he added.
Like other local hotels, Margaritaville Resort Times Square is banking on the return of corporate travel for increased occupancy during the weekdays.
But until then, this “slice of paradise in the concrete jungle,” according to Koran, will continue catering to its weekend vacationers and post-work happy hour drinkers.
“Margaritaville really stands for an emotion because it was in the culture for a very long time before there was a product,” Cohlan said. “Its product was an emotion. ‘Margaritaville, that’s paradise. That’s where we all want to go.'”
Holiday World, a theme park in Indiana, opened under the original name of Santa Claus Land in 1946.
At the time, there were no other U.S. amusement parks with a central theme, making it the nation’s oldest theme park.
Now, sisters and fourth-generation owners Leah and Lauren Koch are heading up the family business. This is their story.
If you drive down I-64 through Central Indiana long enough, you’ll come upon an exit for “Santa Claus, IN.” From the interstate, you probably wouldn’t think much of it.
But a few miles off the exit, you’ll find a giant Santa statue by the side of the road next to a sign that reads: “Welcome to Santa Claus, Indiana. America’s Christmas Hometown.”
Beyond the welcome sign, you can just barely make out a few roller coasters in the distance. Those coasters are part of what makes the town so special. Santa Claus, Indiana is home to Holiday World, the nation’s first theme park. When it was opened by Louis Koch in 1946, it was themed only to Christmas and operated under the name Santa Claus Land, but has since grown to 125 acres of coasters, kiddie rides, a water park, and lands themed to other major holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Independence Day.
The park has stayed in the Koch family since opening day, it’s won numerous awards for its roller coasters (and water coasters), and it’s well known for being family friendly. It famously offers complimentary soda, sunscreen, and parking every day to every guest.
Insider spoke with fourth-generation owners and sisters Leah and Lauren Koch to learn what it was like growing up in a “theme park family” and taking over such a unique family business.
As kids, the Koch sisters didn’t realize it was out of the ordinary to grow up with a theme park as their playground
Leah Koch currently serves as the park’s director of communications and Lauren as director of entertainment. But as kids, their father, Will Koch, was president of Holiday World.
“Holiday World was like an extension of our back yard,” Lauren Koch told Insider. Leah chimed in with a similar response.
“I didn’t realize until I was five years old that other people don’t have parents who work in a theme park,” she said.
Of course, the flip side to that is a whole theme park full of team members who will report back to your father if you step out of line.
“They were like an extension of our dad’s eyes,” Lauren Koch laughed. “We couldn’t even put one toe out of line, because he would know what we did before we could even make it back to his office.”
While the girls spent their younger years enjoying the park, they both donned the Holiday World uniform as soon as they were old enough. Lauren Koch started in cash control at age 14 before auditioning to work as a performer in the entertainment division at age 16, splitting her time between both departments..
“Even when I went to college, if I came home for a few weeks, I got put to work,” Lauren Koch said.
Leah Koch started as a cashier in food and beverage, and has since spent time in cash control, entertainment, and attractions.
“I was a ghost for several years during Halloween,” she said. “When I decided to major in journalism, I wanted to give PR a try, so I did an internship in our PR department as well.”
The Koch sisters didn’t set out to take over the family business
Lauren Koch always had fun during her time working at Holiday World as a teen, but didn’t want to make it her career. The untimely death of her father in 2010 changed everything.
“I wanted to go to college far away and have a life of my own,” she said. “What changed it all for me was my father passing away.” It wasn’t her original plan, but she said she’s very happy with how things turned out.
Leah Koch felt more of a pull toward Holiday World than her sister, but still expected to go off to college, get her masters degree, make a career somewhere, and eventually make her way back to the park.
“I thought it would be far off,” she said. “Not right after college, and certainly not so suddenly. My dad and I operated on similar brain waves, and I think I had some of his same gut instinct. I always felt my path would lead me back here.”
The sisters never felt obligated to take the reins, but they looked at Holiday World as their home.
“We knew it was our dad’s hope to pass the park on to us,” Lauren Koch said. “He was never going to force us. Even though the timing wasn’t what anyone wanted, we felt we needed to try our best to see if we could make it work. Once I started getting involved in the day-to-day and long-term planning, it just grabbed me.”
“We wanted to see our father’s vision through,” her sister added.
Though it’s been 11 years since they lost their father, Leah and Lauren are still working to realize his dreams for the park
The park currently has a few sections geared toward kids, but Will Koch had often discussed building a kids’ section with an all-new theme.
“Dad had wanted to build a new section somewhere in the park, and Mom mentioned it to me one day,” Leah Koch said. “I immediately called him and told him we should do a birthday theme, so that’s one of the things we would love to do eventually.”
Like the park’s other holiday-themed lands, in a “Birthday” land, kids could celebrate their birthday every time they visit.
Outside of the park’s walls, Leah and Lauren Koch want to further Santa Claus, Indiana as a vacation destination with more lodging and dining. Because of their tucked away location, the future of Holiday World and the future of the town are intrinsically intertwined.
Holiday World makes you feel like family when you visit because it’s a family business
In their current roles, the sisters are often working behind the scenes, but they’ve also been known to make pizzas or run rides. “Whatever we need to do to get through the day,” Leah Koch said.
They carry this attitude of egalitarianism through to their interactions with other team members.
“We have our own departments we manage, and we also sit on the board of directors,” Leah Koch said. “So we do have an attitude toward structure, but at the end of the day, structure doesn’t matter.
“Ideas matter, and we’re gonna listen to ideas from anyone on the team.If someone on the front line has a good idea, we’re gonna do it.”
When asked if she could explain why Holiday World has such a family-friendly atmosphere, Leah Koch said: “We each live five to 10 minutes from the front gate, so it’s basically our home away from home.” It’s because of this family-oriented mindset that they treat visitors like family, too. “We’ve always put value on the guest experience, first and foremost,” she added.
You only have to hop off that easy-to-miss Santa Claus exit off I-64 to visit Holiday World and find out for yourself.
While other countries tightened their borders and imposed strict restrictions on gatherings, Mexico’s lenient – and widely criticized – response to the pandemic propelled it in popularity as a choice destination for weddings. Travelers can come and go from Mexico without showing a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination, and in many states there are few rules restricting the size of large gatherings.
“It’s where everyone pivoted because they couldn’t go to Europe,” Laesser-Keck said. “Mexico has exploded in people’s minds as an option.”
Mexico has also ousted some European and Caribbean countries as a destination for weddings, since European countries are often quicker to place restrictions on large gatherings when COVID-19 cases spike, and some Caribbean countries were slow to come out of lockdowns, Heather Allen, the co-founder of Table 6 Productions, said.
“It is the top destination to have a wedding, if you want it to feel like 2019 again,” Allen told Insider. “The weddings I have done in Mexico in 2020 and 2021 have felt safe and normal.”
Despite coronavirus outbreaks, the country’s natural beauty, non-stop flights from major American cities, and affordable prices continue to propel demand for destination weddings in Mexico, Mindy Weiss, the owner of Mindy Weiss Party Consultants, said.
“Mexico is extremely popular because it offers a resort-feel, friendly people wherever you go, delicious food, and unlike years past, they have everything you need in every city as far as rental furniture, dishware, décor, and more,” she told Insider. “And the minute you hear those mariachis, you’re ready to celebrate.”
Wedding planners also told Insider that the number of luxury venues and hotels has increased to meet the soaring demand.
“Couples have always loved destination weddings in Mexico and now they love it even more,” Allen said.