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Jeep Tour Companies Find Niche in Northern Arizona

Although storefronts of jeep tour companies dot the main drag through downtown Sedona, visitors to Flagstaff are hard-pressed to find a jeep tour storefront. That is, until recently. Last month, Grand Canyon Jeep Tours opened a retail store on Aspen Avenue, across the street from Heritage Square.

“The reason we came to Flagstaff is that we could see a huge void,” said Bret Koohns, owner of Grand Canyon Jeep Tours. Koohns, a commercial helicopter pilot, has lived and worked in the Grand Canyon area for over twenty years. His business model has evolved over that time. In May 2007, he opened a storefront in Williams, and later a second location in Tusayan. “Williams is the hub,” explained Koohns. Two of the most popular jeep tours include one which departs west from Williams for the bottom of the canyon at Diamond Creek, and the other whisks visitors due north to the top of the canyon along the South Rim.

The Flagstaff location completes another spoke of the Williams “hub.”

Koohns leveraged his business rela- tionships to collaborate with other entre- preneurs to put together complete tour packages. Grand Canyon Jeep Tours offers add-ons such as smooth and whitewater river trips, IMAX theater tickets and Grand Canyon Skywalk passes at discount prices. “I wanted to take those relationships and try to do something great,” he said proud- ly. He has even partnered with his former employer to offer reduced-rate helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon.

Koohns got the product bundling idea on a trip to Disneyland, where flights, tours, hotels and store credits were bundled together and sold at reduced rates. He has since partnered with Horizon Airlines, which offers direct flights from Los An- geles, on similar vacation packages. “You can get to LAX from anywhere. This makes Flagstaff the destination of choice for people coming to the Grand Canyon.

“What makes us very unique is that visi- tors can show up today, and do what they want to do. Whether they want a day trip, or whatever they want to do [at the Grand Canyon], we can sell it at discounted rate.”

For instance, in one day, visitors can take a jeep tour to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, whitewater raft on the Colorado River and experience a scenic helicopter ride back to the top. The full-day tour price of $499 includes pick-up and drop-off from Flagstaff hotels within the city limits.

Koohns sees the Heritage Square location as a “Grand Canyon information store.” Visitors can ask questions at the information desk in front of a huge wall map of the canyon. People can shop for Grand Canyon souvenirs and T-shirts while they watch videos of each tour on large, flat-panel TVs. And of course, visitors can book jeep tours.

Sedona Jeep Tours Find Their Niche

Sedona is still the jeep tour capital of the world, with Pink Jeep Tours being the first jeep tour company in the United States. “We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this year,” said Mike Hernen, director of sales and marketing for the Sedona-based company that also operates jeep tours out of Las Vegas. The successful company is “the only jeep tour company in town that has certified guides and NAI-certified guide trainers,” Hernen added. To attain Certified Interpretive Guide certification by the National Association for Interpretation (NAI), the guide must complete a 32-hour course.

“Good interpretation offers our guests an increased awareness of Sedona’s cultural and natural resources and our certi- fied interpreters deliver a higher caliber of information,” said Shawn Wendell, owner of Pink Jeep Tours.

A Day in the West jeep tour company is another long-standing Sedona tradition that began in 1949 with horseback tours. The family owned business has a rich history

in Hollywood Western movie making and photography. The company partners with other businesses to offer winery tours, horseback rides or cowboy meals with the jeep tours. “We get positive feedback for each leg of the journey,” said Rob De- Mayo, public relations director.

Earth Wisdom Jeep Tours keeps visi- tors coming back “over and over again,” said Patricia Groves, director of marketing. “We really have a personal touch with people. I‘d like to think that our guides are very knowledgeable. We’re getting visitors out on the land where they can hear the quiet and absorb what Sedona is all about. They can experience Sedona like it was twenty-seven years ago, when I first came here.”

Earth Wisdom offers jeep journeys that merge myth, meditation, native plants and sacred pilgrimage traditions.

Sedona Off Road Adventures uses Hummers rather than jeeps. Owner Marc Balocco pointed out that Hummers have less of an environmental impact than Jeep Wranglers. “We use biodiesel fuel for 78.6 percent cleaner burning, there is no wheel spin, and the 12-passenger Hummer means fewer trips to the forest and less damage.”

On custom three- to seven-day tours, Balocco displays his culinary skills (many readers remember him as Marc of Flagstaff’s Chez Marc restaurant) for first-class dining experiences. “You are in the middle of nowhere, and boom! We come around a corner and there is a dining-room tent set with linens. It’s like an African safari, but we do eat in a Hummer.”

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