Saturday 24 August 2019

Expedition cruise market powers ahead, says expert, but choosing can be confusing

#expeditioncruising .

Expert analysts and strategists are predicting, or perhaps more accurately 'reinforcing', what the small ship cruise sector has known for years, namely that expedition cruising is arguably the most exciting development in the travel industry right now.

Hurtigruten's new hybrid powered vessels are revolutionising the expedition cruise segment (supplied)

"While nothing lasts forever, the cruise industry – and particularly the ‘expedition cruise' sector – remain on a historic run with no indication of a near-term slowdown," says maritime business strategist, Barry Parker in an article on MarineLink.
"Though there is no precise definition of 'expedition', the ships are smaller than mainstream cruise ships, usually carrying less than 300 passengers, and the destinations are well off the beaten path, more exclusive and generally devoid of the traveling masses," explains Parker.

Readers to this blog will not be surprised at his findings which contend "the destinations are well off the beaten path, more exclusive and generally devoid of the traveling masses."

The respected Virtuoso Luxe Report states plainly that "luxury travel, generally, will be highly personalized and inspired by a desire to experience new destinations in unusual ways.”

What form of travel better describes this than adventure and expedition cruising?

When the first forms of expedition cruising were introduced to the travel industry in the 1960s by the likes of Lars-Eric Lindblad, it was a rough and ready affair but with definite aims of expanding travellers' knowledge of the world. "You can't protect what you don't know," Lindblad is credited with saying, referring to the power of responsible travel in furthering conservation.

As the years progressed, expedition travel developed to incorporate more luxuries and creature comforts in dedicated vessels. While still niche, it has gradually expanded to attract travellers in the boutique and luxury sectors thanks to high level of inclusions and fare structures.

Unfortunately, as the competition among operators increases, especially with the relative newcomers, claims about their ships' and cruise line's credentials tend to be exaggerated.

Ponant's Le Commandant Charcot will be the world's first icebreaker built as a passenger vessel (supplied)

Whereas once expeditions were conducted in re-purposed ice-class vessels like those of the Russian oceanographic fleet, these stalwart ships are now being superseded by a new wave of purpose-built ships, sometimes marketed as 'yachts', including fully-fledged icebreakers like Ponant's Le Commandant Charcot.

Other developments include (anchor-free) dynamic positioning and the use of light marine diesel in sensitive areas (instead of the crude-like Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO)) as well as hybrid propulsion systems as recently introduced by Norwegian small ship line, Hurtigruten.

Consumers remain relatively naive as to the technology involved with the newest breed of vessel and some claims made simply do not stack up. In other cases, the preferred sales arrangements existing with the big travel companies can exclude some of the better operators purely through commercial pressure and not by virtue of an particular operator's genuine credentials.

In order to counter this potentially blinkered marketing tactic, there is an argument for prospective travellers to buy through specialist independent expedition companies who represent a wide cross-section of brands and not directly with cruise lines who only have one sales approach namely "buy with us because we are the best".

"With so much choice available, the world of expedition cruising can be confusing," says Andrew Castles of Australian company, Expedition Cruise Specialists, "Whether it’s choosing the right ship for the destination or deciding which part of the world to explore, it can be costly if you make the wrong decision."

For intending passengers, the advice should be 'ask lots of questions'. Ask your friends who have travelled, read reports on sites like Cruise Critic and research the various brands vying for your dollar.

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