For many Antarctica is the final frontier of earthly travel, but it pays to get your head around the questions that might crop up when selling it. Abigail Healy asks operators and cruise lines for tips and insights on the White Continent.
Antarctica is attractive because it’s far, it’s empty and it’s difficult to get to. It doesn’t belong to anyone but to everyone, so regulations are strict when it comes to visitors, making each landing even more precious,” says Mary Anne Nelson, sales team supervisor at Journey Latin America.
“It’s the largest wilderness in the world – more than twice as large as Australia, with no settlements other than a few research stations and ruined whaling stations.”
As well as the thrill of adventure, the White Continent’s most enticing features include wildlife, history and spectacular scenery.
Robin West, Seabourn’s director of expedition operations says: “Species that guests are likely to see include: five species of seal; four species of whale; seven species of penguin; five species of albatross; 18 species of petrel, shearwater and fulmar; cormorants; shags; skuas; terns; and one lone species of gull.”
G Adventures’ marine sales specialist, Sarah Schlederer adds: “Visiting allows you to walk in the footsteps of the greatest explorers in the world – Shackleton, Scott, and Amundsen to name just a few.”
UK research station Port Lockroy is a highlight with a museum, a shop and a post office, while voyages that go to South Georgia also offer guests the chance to see Shackleton’s grave. In terms of landscapes, Silversea’s expedition sales manager, Akvile Marozaite, highlights the Lemaire Channel for its “scenic cruising”.
Once your clients’ minds are captured by visions of icebergs, penguins and adventure you’ll need to talk about the practicalities of planning the trip.
“Our winter is the tourist season in Antarctica and we go there from October to March,” says Hurtigruten’s senior sales manager, Danny Giles. He adds that the experience is very different depending on which part of the season you visit in.
“Prior to Christmas it is still very snowy – as it is coming out of Antarctica’s winter – it’s that pristine white that people tend to think of. The penguins are nesting and preparing to mate and you can have whales escorting you down the Drake Passage. By January it is summertime, the penguin chicks have hatched and the landings can be rocky and less snowy.”
Starting points can also vary. Most clients tend to fly to Buenos Aires in Argentina then travel to Ushuaia where they embark on their Antarctica itinerary. Other embarkation points include Punta Arenas or Valparaiso in Chile or even Montevideo in Uruguay on a more extensive itinerary.
Itineraries themselves can range drastically depending on duration, ship size and clients’ preferences. Travelling straight to the Antarctic Peninsula on an itinerary of around 10 days is one of the most common options as it can be done on a two-week break. However, Hurtigruten’s Giles recommends spending at least one night in Buenos Aires in case luggage is lost en route and to allow some post-flight recovery time.
Although the shorter version may be best for clients with limited time, operators highly recommend a longer voyage taking in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia too. Silversea’s Marozaite says: “I always recommend our 18-day voyage as you see the nesting sites of the albatross in the Falklands and it’s the only place that you see rockhopper penguins. In South Georgia you see elephant seals and this is the only place to see king penguins.”
From October 2018 Hurtigruten will have new ship Roald Amundsen sailing itineraries out of Punta Arenas.
“Going from here means we can land in Cape Horn – you can’t usually do that if you sail out of Ushuaia. And it will cross the Antarctic Circle to visit Stonington Island from the end of February,” says Giles.
Silversea’s Marozaite says that ship size should be one of the first considerations when planning an Antarctica itinerary as it has a “huge impact on the guests’ experience”.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) regulations state that ships carrying up to 200 guests are classed as category 1 and these have the biggest choice of landings in Antarctica, those with more than 200 have access to a reduced number of landing sites and those with 500 or more cannot land at all.
For example, Holland America Line includes five days in Antarctica on a 22-night itinerary, which doesn’t offer Antarctica landings but works well for those keen to take in a variety of South American highlights such as Patagonia as well.
Clients wanting a more in-depth Antarctica experience might be better matched with smaller ships that offer one or sometimes two landings each day on the Antarctic Peninsula. Silversea’s Marozaite says: “IAATO states you can only have 100 guests ashore at any time so we will usually have 100 guests ashore and the others on a Zodiac cruise and then swap them over.”
G Adventures’ Schlederer adds that deck space is important. “An expedition ship is not just for transport but is also a platform for being able to view this special place. Some of the best wildlife encounters are had from the deck of the ship, rather than from land or in a zodiac.”
Crossing the Drake Passage is one of the most iconic sections of an Antarctica trip. G Adventures’ Schlederer says: “People refer to the Drake Passage crossing as being either a ‘Drake Lake’ [very calm] or a ‘Drake Shake’ when it can get very, very, rough.”
But instead of assuming it will be a turn off for your clients, sell it as another highlight of the adventure. “Everyone wants it to be bad to have the full experience – until they are on it,” says Hurtigruten’s Giles.
For those who really can’t cope with the concept, Journey Latin America’s Nelson says you can do fly-cruises that go from Punta Arenas over the Drake Passage to King George Island and embark there.
Another query clients may have is how cold it can actually be and if they need to buy lots of costly gear. Holland America Line’s Fletcher says: “Daytime temperatures are likely to be around 0-4C. It is always cold around glaciers since ice-chilled air flows from their surfaces downward and it tends to be windy, which adds chill factor.”
Hurtigruten’s Giles adds: “Waterproof trousers and lots of layers in natural fibres are essential. Boots are important as are sun lotion and sunglasses.”
Many lines give clients branded jackets to wear that they keep at the end of the voyage and some, such as Hurtigruten, provide boots for the duration. Others offer the option to hire boots so it’s worth checking what the set up is with the individual operator so clients feel prepared.
Beyond the practicalities, one of the most exciting parts of selling an Antarctica trip is discussing the activities and excursions that guests can try when they get there. Many operators offer excursions such as camping on the ice, sea kayaking or swimming at Deception Island, as well as less active pursuits such as photography lessons and lectures.
For example guests travelling with Hurtigruten have the chance to put their names in a ballot for a camping experience. “We try to offer it two to three times per voyage and 10 people can do it each time,” Giles says.
Seabourn’s kayaking excursions “allow guests to paddle amidst glistening white-blue icebergs, penguins, curious seals and other wildlife,” says West. And G Adventures has a Photographer in Residence on every departure to help guests make the most of their camera gear and take the best possible shots while Silversea runs special photography-themed departures for true enthusiasts.
Again, if there are specific activities or interests that your clients are keen to include make sure you do your research to check which operators are best suited.
Finally, don’t overlook the extent to which operators can help you sell the destination. Hurtigruten has virtual reality footage and headsets that can bring the experience to life at client events.
Many operators have resources such as videos, photos and downloadable gear lists on their websites as well as destination experts who have first-hand experience and awe-inspiring stories to tell – so be sure to ask for their help.