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Before travel was temporarily shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, expedition cruise travel was a segment that was expected to boom in the coming years.
That is, thankfully, not expected to change too dramatically, according to experts at the recent Seatrade Cruise Virtual convention.
In fact, while moderating the conference’s Expedition and Small Ship Cruising — View from the Bridge panel, Liz Gammon, creative cruise consultant for LizGammon.com, reflected that unlike larger ocean ships, no existing expedition vessels have been scrapped — nor have any newbuilds been canceled. At most, new ships have only been delayed.
Here’s what else advisors should know regarding the future of this sector.
New Ships for Seabourn Cruise Line and PonantSeabourn Cruise Line’s new Seabourn Venture has been pushed back by about six months and is now scheduled to launch at the end of 2021. However, Seabourn’s second luxury expedition ship is still on schedule, placing the sister ships’ arrivals only six months apart, rather than one year.
The challenge, according to Robin West, vice president of expedition operations for Seabourn, is a significant compression of the calendar for planning purposes.
“What’s really exciting during this time period is to still have this forward momentum and this optimism,” he said.
At a separate press conference, executives from Ponant took the opportunity to highlight the line’s new icebreaking polar ship, Le Commandant Charcot, which is launching in May 2021 and is described as an “educational tool” due, in part, to its onboard research lab. Ponant is unique in the fact that its expedition line has already restarted its cruises.
RELATED: Cruise Execs Express Optimism for Near and Long-Term Future
Global Travel RestrictionsInternational travel restrictions are one large reason that other companies have continued to suspend operations. For example, due to the Canadian government’s strict stance on Arctic shipping overall, Adventure Canada has opted to cancel its entire 2020 program.
“We made the most responsible and safest choice possible, and that would be to regroup and look forward to the 2021 season,” said Alana Bradley-Swan, director of product for Adventure Canada.
Pent-Up Demand“I don’t doubt for a second that when things come back again, there will be significant growth coming in the future,” said Seabourn’s West.
The only question now is how — and when — that will happen for the U.S. source market in particular, given clients’ varying comfort levels when it comes to traveling long distances. Even if eventual growth comes a bit more slowly, the belief is that the segment will be resilient, and any downturn will not last in the long-term.
By contrast, Hans Lagerweij, president of Europe-based Albatros Travel and Albatros Expeditions, says the company’s main source market is China, but its greatest interest is currently coming from Australia.
When you are given a green light, you need to act quickly, and you need to be prepared. Because we’re coming back.
A Practical Plan for the FutureAccording to Emilio Freeman, vice president of itineraries and destinations for SeaDream Yacht Club, there is a level of uncertainty when it comes to preparing for the future.
“[Planning] everything is very close in now,” he said. “When I normally look at the horizon for a destination or a deployment, it’s two to three years [down the line] that you’re looking at where you’re going to send your ships. For us at SeaDream, it’s [now] two months, tops.”
Adventure Canada’s Bradley-Swan anticipates that business will be “quite restricted in the 2021 season,” noting that it is unknown how quickly a vaccine may be distributed worldwide.
Ultimately, “what we need is open borders and long-haul traffic,” added Albatros Expeditions’ Lagerweij.
Crucial, too, is required flight capacity and alleviating the fear that guests may become stuck on a vessel or in a country, he says.
“What we really can’t have anymore are ships being sent away and floating around on the ocean, waiting for a port that is nice enough to accept them,” he said.
Advisor AssistanceAs for travel agents, the key thing is to be ready in the interim, these experts say.
“The window is very narrow,” SeaDream’s Freeman said. “When you are given a green light, you need to act quickly, and you need to be prepared. Because we’re coming back.”
The DetailsAdventure Canadawww.adventurecanada.com
Seabourn Cruise Linewww.seabourn.com
SeaDream Yacht Clubwww.seadream.com