Friday 14 October 2022

Robin West, Seabourn's head of expeditions, addresses Australian media

#expeditioncruising .

Robin West, Seabourn's Head of Expeditions, met media for an exclusive lunch event where he briefed us on the launch of Seabourn’s brand new, luxury expeditions to some of the world’s most exciting and remote destinations - Antarctica, Patagonia, Greenland and the Amazon. The new luxury, small-ship voyages feature state-of-the-art submarines, zodiacs and an elite expedition team of wildlife experts, scientists, naturalists and historians. Here is a transcript of that address:

How it started was, back in 2013, Seabourn opted to take one of the ocean vessels, Seabourn Quest out to Antarctica. And that was actually reason that it coincided. I was kind of head-hunted by a contractor to come and work as expedition leader on board Seabourn Quest for the first seasons down in Antarctica. And what is interesting is our maiden sailing, or our maiden voyage down to Antarctica, on our second sailing, the ratings, the guest feedback and the comments were the highest that Seabourn had got in 30 years of operating. And so I think that was really a strong sign for us as a company, that this product that been offered with Zodiacs, with expedition team was really something that resonated exceptionally well with our guests. And of course, since then, Seabourn Quest has been going back down to Antarctica, I think we have done seven or eight seasons now, sailing Antarctica.

And up unto that point, we’d created for ourselves a platform and a database where we have taken thousands of guests now out on Zodiacs to see Antarctica. We’ve taken hundreds of guests on kayaking excursions. And internally, as a company, we’ve built up experience in terms of expedition staff, databases, officers with expedition and life experience. So we’ve really been on a journey since 2013.

In 2015 actually, as a result of the success we had with our sailings on Quest in Antarctica, we wanted to try and replicate that experience on our other ocean-going vessels. And what we came up with was a project called Ventures by Seabourn. So Ventures by Seabourn is an optional expedition product. So basically on Quest in Antarctica, the Zodiacs are included, it’s part of the entire experience. We looked at creating a shore excursion programme where, instead of having 19 expedition staff that we have on Quest Antarctica, we bring on a small team. So we bring six expedition staff or more, they do lectures, they do talks, they do presentations, they are engaging with guests.

And we designed or designed and developed a programme called Ventures by Seabourn and we actually launched in 2015 on Quest in Northern Europe and again, it was really very successful. You know, guests could, we kind of angled it to our ocean-going itinerary. So we took our 14 Copenhagen sailings and we just tweaked some of the days. Instead of getting to a destination at 8:00 o’clock, we would get their slightly earlier, we would launch the Zodiac, we would do a fantastic Zodiac cruise of some bird cliffs. Bring the boats, bring the guests back onboard and then sail to the destination. So we used a little bit of thinking out of the box, to some extent, to really design and develop a Ventures by Seabourn programme on board. And that really went exceptionally well as well.

And so that started in 2015, just in Norway. Now Ventures by Seabourn is on all of our ocean-going vessels and select destinations around the world. We have programmes in Norway, we have programmes in Iceland, Greenland, Canada, we have programmes throughout the entire Pacific. The Odyssey, has just finished up the Alaska season, it’s moving across the Pacific. We have a team onboard there now, a team of six expedition staff. And again, they will be doing hiking, Zodiac tours, and kayaking. And they will then move across the Pacific into the Australasian season then Australia and New Zealand.

But what is probably by far our most successful project is Alaska. So that itinerary we actually built from scratch with Ventures by Seabourn in mind. And like this past season, it has, over the years, proven to be extremely successful To give you an indication, on Odyssey we take a maximum of 450 guests. It’s not uncommon this past season for us to take 600 guests on Ventures by Seabourn activities during our Alaska sailing. So guests are going on multiple trips with us.

And so Alaska Sailing, of course Alaska lends itself towards that kind of experience where we are up in Misty Fjords, we are up in Tracy Arm, Indica Arm, Hubbard Glacier. The ship goes over to the Indian Islands, some of the most incredible wildlife encounters in the Indian Islands.

Then of course, through all of that process we obviously realised that there was really a demand with our Seabourn guests to want to experience an expedition-type product. And so that helped us, in 2017, make a decision to really to do a deep dive into whether we were wanting to build an expedition ship. The decision was yes. And of course, from there we spent time looking at designing the vessel.

And the expedition segment has boomed in the last five years. I think without a doubt it’s the fastest-growing segment in the cruise industry at the moment. There’s probably been 35 to 40 new exhibition ships just built in the last seven to 10 years. And more interesting is probably the segment of the expedition that has grown the fast is the luxury segment. A lot of companies are pushing that luxury segment in the expedition industry and a lot of new shifts have been built in the luxury segment.

So before we built we obviously did a really thorough review and analysis in terms of what the competition was doing. And yeah, we launched Venture on 27 July this year and, as I said earlier, we sailed up to Svalbard and it was phenomenal to see the ship come to life with the Zodiacs, the kayaks, the submarines.

You know, we did our first sailing up to Svalbard, we spent a day cruising through the pack ice up at 82 degrees north. Put the ship in ice and left it there. And about 12:30 at night a polar bear walked all the way over towards the ship and spent about an hour on the side of the ship with us. And then it walked away, sat down and Seabourn Venture, in fact, is the only expedition ship which has, what’s called, the Cineplex camera, it’s like a military-grade camera. If you’ve seen police helicopters, they have that ball that hangs off the front. It’s a gyro-stabilised camera.

So it’s the equivalent of that and basically, you can zoom in onto wildlife and bring wildlife into the ship on every single piece of glass onboard the clip from up to a mile, or a mile and ad half away in kind of full frame. So we have had some incredible wildlife encounters.

But yeah, Seabourn Venture's is up and running, it’s operational. And we genuinely believe we have built the world’s most luxurious ultra-luxury expedition vessel.

Transcript by Denise Gascoigne 

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