Special Report: Clia’s first Expedition Cruise Summit

The association hosted agents onboard Seabourn Venture in Greenwich. Stu Parish joined them

Thirty travel agents attended Clia’s first Expedition Cruise Summit in London on Sunday as the association continued to expand its focus on the sector.

The event took place onboard Seabourn Venture in Greenwich and included the opportunity to explore the ship and hear from the line’s vice-president of expeditions Robin West.

Andy Harmer, managing director of Clia UK & Ireland, said the summit was the next step in educating the trade on a growth sector.

“We identified expedition cruising as a growth sector back in 2019 when we held our first ever expedition event for our travel agent partners in the UK,” he said.

“Since we have been adding virtual and in-person events, resources and learning dedicated to this sector, and the destinations that [lines] visit.”

Recently released Clia data showed a 53% increase in the number of passengers from the UK & Ireland travelling to exploration destinations in 2023, making it one of the fastest growing segments of travel.

And panelists including Harmer, West and Seabourn UK & EMEA vice-president Lynn Narraway agreed ongoing product and destination education were key to creating “experts in expedition” and driving continuing growth.

Harmer added: “The Clia Expedition Summit on Seabourn Venture was an amazing opportunity to showcase a ship and its expedition features, as well as hear from one of the leading authorities on expedition destinations and experiences, Robin West, and get an understanding of how the sector, alongside Clia, can support trade partners in growing their business.

“We want to help raise awareness of expedition and to give our travel agent partners the confidence to offer expedition cruises as part of their product mix.”

Different product, same brand

West told agent guests that Seabourn Venture had been designed to be consistent with the line’s offering while creating a ship that was “a view to the world” with significant deck space and enhanced cabin views.

He said: “It’s a different product, but it’s still the Seabourn brand. When we launched, we were circa 70% existing Seabourn ocean customers, but that number has switched and we’re seeing far more new-to-brand and new-to-cruise (customers).”

A secondary trend has seen those experiencing Seabourn for the first time via its expedition product going on to book its traditional ocean sailings, West added.

Seabourn Venture has 132 suites and a maximum guest capacity of 264. It was compared to a “luxury ski chalet” in comparison with some other expedition vessels.

All suites are ocean facing with verandas and feature heated wardrobes for drying and storing expedition gear.

Narraway said: “It’s about how we attract those non-cruise travellers who are taking high-end safaris or holidaying in Mauritius and bring them into expedition cruise.”

Pointing to the line’s two custom-built six-seater submarines, West added: “We can match that experience, or even exceed that experience.

“The submarines can go to places where no other person has been before.”

Know your customer

The average Seabourn expedition customer is 60 years of age and either retired or semi-retired, but improvements in technology are making it easier to attract time-sensitive younger customers, delegates were told.

Narraway highlighted the importance of separating the “retired wealthy” and “working wealthy” when recommending itineraries, adding: “The retired wealthy have the money and the time, while the working wealthy have the money but not the time.”

Despite the difference, she added advancements in onboard connectivity meant a younger “working wealthy” audience who needed to stay engaged with work while on holiday could also be targeted.

Education

Harmer stressed the importance of education in the sector, saying: “Last year we added our new Expedition Dinners, in Manchester and London, and since 2022 we reintroduced our Luxury and Expedition Residentials to provide an immersive showcase of the opportunity, the products and options available to travel agents in a new relaxed and small-scale environment.”

He added: “To support those who cannot visit ships, we have added virtual ship tours as a resource for members, and in 2023 that included an expedition ship, with three new expedition virtual ship tours being added in 2024.”

West advised agents to build knowledge and confidence incrementally.

“Don’t focus on everything straight away. Antarctica almost sells itself, and if you’re selling Antarctica then selling the Arctic wouldn’t take too much more effort,” he said.

“Pick two or three destinations, and when you reach a level of comfort grow this into other destinations around the world.”

West added: “I would recommend (visiting) the Arctic first, it’s less in your face, but if you’ve been tracking a polar bear for two days and you finally find it, that’s like seeing 100,000 penguins in Antarctica.

“It’s about how alive you feel. The ultimate is Antarctica because there’s nowhere else like it on the planet.”

Narraway added: “Sit down with a client, show them the videos, talk about the itineraries, and bring in the emotion of the experiences.”

The Expedition Hub on cruising.org features interviews, webinars, destination information, key contacts and resources for those keen to grow their expedition business.

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