CLIA expedition roundtable: uncharted waters

Last month, Clia announced that it would be holding its first ever Expedition Cruise event, on March 28 in London, to better educate agents about the fast growing sector. As part of the push, CLIA has formed its first Expedition Cruise working group to help steer the ship. We sat down with them for a roundtable to discuss the industry

How quickly is the expedition cruise sector growing?
Peter Shanks [Silversea]:There are currently 29 ships on order across the expedition industry. Of that about 11 are arriving in 2019. However, if you add up all of those beds, it’s still fewer than P&O’s Iona. So, while the growth is huge, it’s very achievable.
Andy Harmer [Clia]:There is a demand for destinations that people didn’t possibly think that they could travel to in the past. We’ve also seen a shift in the types of holidays that customers want. They don’t necessarily just want to fly and flop anymore – they want to have experiences they wouldn’t previously have been able to have.
Ruth Gardiner [Celebrity Cruises]:And cruising makes that easy for our customers. That’s the great thing for our part of the sector. Places they didn’t think they could get to – whether through age or that were unaffordable – cruising is making it very accessible.

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The luxury part of the market is one that seems to be developing especially quickly…
Nabil Maillard [Ponant]: For us, expedition  means that we are reaching new markets. We are going from five to 12 ships in three years.
Peter Shanks:That is the big opportunity for the travel agent community. With all of this growth we are having to find first time cruisers. We are seeing a lot of people who don’t necessarily see themselves as taking a cruise. They are Baby Boomers, 55-75 -years-old, they’re adventurous and want to explore the world.

Are you finding that most of your passengers are first timers?
Ruth Gardiner: We’re seeing people who are former backpackers, world travellers, people who took student gap years in their youth and have had families, those children have grown up and left home, and they want to go back to their bucket list. Just in much more comfort.
Peter Shanks: For us we certainly have more first timers on expedition cruises than we do on our more traditional fleet. It’s a bucket-list thing.
Emily Shand [Aurora]:It’s the same for us. However, with our new ship, the Greg Mortimer, and all of the activities you can do, such as polar skiing and diving – we are hopefully reaching out to a younger demographic.

N°-1047 ©Studio PONANT-Laureen Robert

What tips do you have for travel agents to sell expedition cruises?
Peter Shanks:If you have cruise customers then it is a relatively straight switch. River cruise passengers also travel for destination, so are a good bet. If you have customers who take suites and are willing to spend a lot of money then that’s another opportunity. However, the biggest opportunity is for customers who are going with upmarket long-haul tour operators, such as Cox & Kings, Abercrombie & Kent or Kuoni.
Andy Harmer:From an education point of view, there are a few things that agents would want to know. One is that these are very different destinations that offer very different experiences for customers. The other is they need to understand what a day in the life of an expedition cruise is: shore excursions are generally included and guest lectures are a big part of the cruise. When agents get that knowledge then they can understand what customers they have got already that would suit an expedition cruise.
Peter Shanks: The other area where we’re really successful, and others are too, is having events with travel agents. If an agent has identified 10, 20 or 50 of their guests who could potentially go on an expedition then working with us, or through Clia, they can get our experts out there. That probably gives us our best return on investment. People book there and then.

How do you make expedition cruises appeal more to young people? These are long trips that are typically more expensive than other types of cruises.
Ruth Gardiner: Not necessarily. You can do the Galapagos with us in just over a week, including a brief stay in Quito. Most of the time you will stay on and do Machu Picchu but not everyone does that.

Is expedition cruise in a similar position to where river cruise was a few years ago?
Andy Harmer: Cruise has grown to be such an important part of the holiday market that you were always going to have these sectors within cruise getting more prominence. We’ve been talking about river for seven years now and that growth is continuing – by 20 per cent last year – but you’re also seeing significant growth in the ultra-luxury part of the market as well as expedition. It is natural now that customers, and agents, are understanding the nuances of the different sectors.

There is a huge responsibility for all of us and we do whatever we can to protect the environment

Each one of you has a new ship coming out in the next couple of years. Can you tell me what you’re excited about in this next generation?
Nabil Maillard: We have always had small ships but for our next ships we’re getting even smaller – to about 180 passengers. We get more repeat customers because people want to be on a small ship.
Emily Shand: Our next ship, the Greg Mortimer, will be smaller too. It will handle 120-passengers, which makes it much easier to get everyone off when we’re making polar landings. The x-bow hull also means that when we cross choppy waters, such as the Drake’s Passage, the whole thing will be a lot smoother. The ship also doesn’t have an anchor, so it doesn’t disrupt the seafloor. The whole environmental piece is getting more and more important.
Ruth Gardiner: It’s the same for us, Flora doesn’t have an anchor either. It means that we won’t damage anything on the floor. Another new feature that will be on board is a Star Gazing platform – which will be an incredible venue, where we can have events such as guest lectures on board.
Peter Shanks: The innovation we’re focusing on is around destination. We have a chap called Conrad Combrink, who leads our expedition team. He spends his life travelling around the world to find incredible destinations for our guests. In 2020 will be doing the northwest and the northeast passage so for us it’s more about innovating in a destination.

How important is sustainability when it comes to expedition cruise? Both from an environmental and community perspective.
Andy Harmer: We do a lot of that at Clia. Earlier in the year we launched the agents guide to sustainability, to look at the work that the industry is doing in this area – we’re going to follow that up with a longer piece. As an industry we’ve already started that process.
Peter Shanks: The Galapagos is a good example. You can’t just turn up and start operating in the Galapagos, you need a licence. All of our staff, food and wine are Ecuadorian. There is a huge responsibility for all of us and we do whatever we can to protect the environment. The destinations we visit will never be like Venice, because the numbers are so small.
Nabil Maillard: I also find that agents are very pro-active in this area, because they have to be. They’re being asked these questions by their customers so they need to have the right answers.

Sam Ballard

Sam Ballard is the publisher of CRUISE ADVISER and has been writing about the cruise industry for a number of years. His CV includes the likes of shipping magazine International Cruise & Ferry Review and the digital publication Cruise News. He can be contacted on:sam@cruise-adviser.com.

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