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Travel industry veteran Robert Halfpenny brings years of experience — and the spirit of a true expeditioner — to Aurora Expeditions as managing director.
Halfpenny has worked in the experiential travel industry for quite some time. Just as he witnessed the power of travel by rail during his time with Rocky Mountaineer, he raves about Aurora Expeditions’ ability to create life-changing, immersive experiences for clients.
“Itineraries are our guidelines; for example, our expedition leaders have the ability to stop the ship if they see a pod of whales,” he said. “It’s a true expedition experience.”
The Australia-based company has specialized in polar expeditions for more than 25 years. Its approach particularly stands out because smaller groups are taken into the polar regions and guests are allowed to stay on land the entire time the ship is docked. (Note: A maximum of 100 passengers can come ashore at a time in the polar regions, according to regulations put in place by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. Therefore, ships with upward of 100 passengers will have to cycle through groups.)
Now as Aurora Expeditions prepares to increase its capacity with its newest ship, the Greg Mortimer, and offers new global expedition tours, Halfpenny predicts rapid business growth. He believes that 50 percent of Aurora Expeditions’ business will come from the North American and United Kingdom markets in the next three years, opposed to 20 percent of its business in years past.
Indeed, demand is high: “Aurora Expeditions’ 2019 Antarctic season is 80 percent sold out, and its 2020 Artic season is 60 percent sold out,” Halfpenny said.
Below, Halfpenny discusses Aurora Expeditions’ movement into the North American market; details how the company works with travel agents; and elaborates on the Greg Mortimer.
As Aurora Expeditions moves into the North American market, what are a few trends you’re seeing? First, expedition travel is taking off. People are looking for smaller, experiential travel opportunities, and Aurora offers that. The Greg Mortimer offers the comfort that people want, but also gives guests the chance to kayak, snorkel and scuba dive in the polar regions.
Also, people are hearing about and wanting to explore the Drake Passage, or the “Drake Shake,” which takes about two days to cross. We’ve designed our new ship with an X-Bow (inverted bow), which pierces the water and reduces the rocking, rolling and general discomfort of rough waters. We’ve also created an option for clients to fly one way or the other.
How does the Greg Mortimer balance its functional purpose with modern comforts?Aurora is breaking into the middle market — between luxury cruise lines and traditional expedition vessels — at that four-and-a-half-star level. When we designed our new ship, we didn’t want to lose our principles, such as not being afraid to scratch the ship or get dirty.
But we do have a spa, a wellness center, a gym and a library. On the top level, there are two Jacuzzis and an indoor observation deck that offers 180-degree views. Meanwhile, down below, there is a locker room and four Zodiac loading platforms. And kayakers and divers can go off of these custom-made platforms right into the water. It’s the best of both worlds.
How do agents benefit by booking with Aurora Expeditions? Agents want to take care of their clients and create repeat business. At Aurora, we provide an experience that brings clients back for more. We have clients that have joined us 11 to even 20 times — and that’s just on our polar expeditions. Now that we have a global program, we expect to see more repeat customers.
When I came into this business, 80 percent of our sales were booked direct. Now, 50 percent is being booked through agents.
We’re putting support and reservation specialists in place in North America, too. Our product is unique, and agents may have questions. We want to help answer those questions. And our promotions are for everyone; we don’t offer specials to our clients that agents don’t have access to.
Any advice for a potential Aurora Expeditions’ client? We encourage people to step beyond their boundaries and try new things. We travel in small groups to help create memorable experiences — like a leopard seal popping onto the tip of someone’s kayak, for instance.
Bring a sense of adventure with you, and try everything.
The Details Aurora Expeditionswww.auroraexpeditions.com.au