Where next for cruise? Craig Upshall, Aurora Expeditions, on cruise in 2020
Sales director UK & Europe, Aurora Expeditions
When our founder Greg Mortimer set off to climb Mount Minto in Antarctica back in 1994, few tourists were travelling to the white continent. Other than joining a research ship, the only way to reach the icy expanse was on a decommissioned Russian ice-breaker. Following his successful summit of Mount Minto, Greg chartered one of those vessels for intrepid family and friends – people whose sense of adventure had been ignited by the passion and stories he took back with him to Australia.
Fast forward two and a half decades, and cruise passengers are embracing new and far-flung destinations like never before. According to Clia’s most recent Ocean & River Cruise Review (June 2019), cruise “exploration destinations” – including the polar regions, the Galápagos Islands and Antarctica– saw a 44 per cent increase in bookings in 2018 compared with the previous year. In March last year, Clia held its first ever Expedition Cruise Forum, with insight from veteran expedition leader Robin West and BBC broadcaster Monty Halls. The Russian Far East, Papua New Guinea, Antarctica and Greenland – destinations that until relatively recently were considered beyond the reach of most – were all discussed.
Rise in expedition
If proof were needed that expedition cruising is one of the fastest growing sectors in the industry, one need only look at the number of orders on the books (an Aurora ship too! But more of this later…). Between now and 2022 more than 15 expedition ships will launch, with big names like Silversea, National Geographic, Crystal and Hurtigruten among them.
Many of the new ships are luxury vessels and this step-up in comfort is another factor behind the rise in demand for expedition cruising. It is possible to go o the beaten path and travel in comfort and with equipment to really enhance your expedition experience. Here at Aurora we know from speaking to our own clients that many of them are seeking not only adventure but new and unique experiences.
People no longer want to stare at the wilderness from the other side of a rail. They want to be in it, experiencing it up close and witnessing its beauty and wildlife first-hand. They also want experts to enlighten them and to deepen their knowledge about the planet’s precious environments. Holidays now are as much about learning or pursuing a passion as they are about relaxing, and with historians, expert naturalists, geologists and photographers leading our voyages, we are well placed to meet that need.
We will continue to offer our passengers new ways to engage with the regions we sail in, both above and below the water, whether that’s sea kayaking alongside whales, rock climbing in Greenland or going in search of guillemots in the Faroes. Age is not a barrier, last year we sent several happy cruise passengers in the 60-plus bracket, and some in their 70s too, on guided polar snorkelling, camping, ski touring and kayaking trips.
As for Greg Mortimer himself, the spark that our founder ignited all those years ago did not fizzle out. Aurora Expeditions, the company that Greg and his wife Margaret grew from the ground up, continues to go from strength to strength. Last year saw the hugely successful launch of the company’s first purpose-built expedition ship, the eponymous Greg Mortimer. We have just announced a second expedition ship, the Sylvia Earle. Named in honour of the revered oceanographer, this new ship will again sail with the Ulstein X-Bow – cutting-edge bow technology that improves comfort and stability in rough seas.
The year ahead is going to be another big year for us. We are excited about our first voyage to Franz Josef Land this summer where the Greg Mortimer will cross the Barents Sea to a world few have seen. Two more voyages are already planned for summer 2021. In the polar regions we will continue to be ambassadors for responsible travel. Our founder Greg Mortimer was instrumental in helping establish IAATO (the International Association of Antarctica Operators, set up in 1991) and we will continue to strive for best practice in Destination Stewardship wherever we go.
For us, the focus on citizen science, responsible travel and ocean conservation has never been sharper.
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In this issue, we look ahead to the next 12 months, bringing you expert opinion from travel industry leaders as we ask them, where next for cruise? Andy Harmer of Clia, Ben Bouldin of Royal Caribbean International, Lynn Narraway of Seabourn, Craig Upshall of Aurora Expeditions and Neil Barclay of Viking Cruises all share their views, in this special section of the magazine. Click here to read the magazine in full.