The future of expedition cruising in a fast-growing market, safeguarding destinations environmentally and how to target the right customers were all on the agenda at Clia’s first Expedition Cruise Forum.
The sector is predicted to grow by 30% over the next four years as 28 ships come into service, delegates heard in London last week.
Alistair Pritchard, Deloitte UK’s lead partner for travel, said despite the capacity boost, demand for expedition cruising was outstripping supply.
“It’s actually quite challenging, but definitely an opportunity for the industry,” he said. “The capacity of all those new ships combined is not dissimilar to an MSC or Royal Caribbean mega ship – so there is plenty of room to grow.”
Pritchard outlined a number of factors around consumer spending trends in the UK to help demonstrate an abundance of consumers to target for expedition – including a 200% increase of people in the UK with wealth of more than $1 million in the last decade, and an expected 6.2% rise in luxury travel spending between 2015-2025.
Emphasising the lucrative potential for agents focusing on expedition, Silversea’s UK and Ireland managing director and chair of Clia’s expedition working group Peter Shanks revealed the line had secured two bookings in excess of £300,000 for its first expedition world cruise in 2021, which went on sale in February.
Touching on new product coming into the market, Robin West, Seabourn’s vice-president of expedition operations and planning, hinted that the line's first expedition ship Seabourn Venture – launching in June 2021 – would look “very, very different on the inside" to competitor vessels.
“It will feel like Seabourn but there will be new cabin classes [and] new spaces,” he said.
West also analysed the future of in-destination expedition experiences in a sector “becoming more and more competitive”.
“In a few years it won’t be about a ship's onboard features, but down to each lines’ expedition teams and what they can offer to differentiate companies," he said.
He also addressed the changing environments in the Polar regions, with about 50 ships predicted to be operating in Antarctica by 2021-2022.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), West said, would be revealing plans this summer to help manage tourism in the region and “spread ships more evenly”.
“Lines are going to have to start thinking outside the box about how they operate landings as the most popular spots get busier,” he said.
West was joined in throwing a spotlight on environmental issues by explorer and broadcaster Monty Halls, who told delegates the burgeoning expedition cruise sector had “a chance to prosper but must leave a lasting legacy” and maintain the wildlife and eco-systems of the destinations it visits.