Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Cruise Weekly Comment: Adventure cruising, expedition cruising, now eco cruising.


Product differentiation in the travel business is an ongoing challenge for those marketing existing products and even more so for those launching new ones and trying to get their heads above the noise.

A couple weeks back I attended a function aboard the superb ten passenger charter vessel, MV Platinum. The premise for my attendance was the announcement of new “adventure cruising” and “eco cruising” itineraries aboard this sparkling new vessel.

First and foremost, the 38m MV Platinum is like no other vessel offering adventure cruise itineraries. It’s lavish, exclusive and oh-so posh. Immediately I’m thinking of visiting royalty and uber-celebs chartering this vessel for a week or so between coronations or Academy Awards. I see flowing evening gowns, balmy moonlit nights and lots of champagne.

So where does this lovely boat fit in with chunky ex-Russian spy vessels and 50-passenger expedition yachts? To be honest I’m not sure.

Platinum’s idea of eco-cruising is white sandy beaches, a spot of snorkelling, gourmet meals, relaxation and hand-and-foot pampering. 5-day itineraries between the Gold Coast and Whitsundays run at around $800pp/day, fractionally more expensive than our regulars in this market but without the included excursions. If you’re planning a honeymoon or smart get-away-from-it-all break this would be hard to beat, but adventure seekers might find themselves left to their own devices. Where are the kayaks and Scuba tanks? BYO I imagine.

The 32-cabin Fantasea Ammari struggled throughout 2008 with itineraries in the Whitsundays and was eventually withdrawn back to Brisbane last October. The Ammari is a perfectly capable vessel, more in line with regular adventure yachts like Coral Princess’ Oceanic Discoverer and Captain Cook’s Reef Escape. Her so-called ‘adventure cruises’ were more leisure orientated.

“I see her as a sort of floating beach house,“ said Fantasea Cruises patriarch Hume Campbell at the time of the vessel’s re-introduction, “somewhere where guests can slow down quickly and relax.”

If Fantasea’s experience is anything to go by, there seems to be something missing from the “kick back” small ship cruising model, especially in our region. I would argue that in order to apply the ‘adventure’ or ‘expedition’ label, a cruise itinerary needs much more than fine wine, marble bathrooms and scenery. Luxury is all well-and-good, but enrichment and the oft-touted “experiential and transformational” need stirring into the mix too. Our big ship brigade seem to have “laid back” down pat, especially in the $200pp/day price bracket.

Have a clear idea what you want out of your next small ship cruise and scrutinise itineraries and activities closely. In my mind at least, adventure cruising needs ‘adventure’.