The luxury customer is getting younger and more active – and Abercrombie & Kent is stretching far beyond its roots in the Antarctic to meet the demand for new experiences and destinations. Among the added offerings over the next two years will be concierges to help guests develop personalized land expeditions; new trips to Greece; and adventures in the Australian "outback of the outback."
First up is a return to Greece, scheduled for 2018 on the brand new class of Ponant ships that debuted last week in New York. “We want to be on the best ships in the right areas,” Abercrombie & Kent’s Bob Simpson, VP of expedition cruising, told Travel Market Report last week. “We haven’t operated in Greece since about 2004, but this was an opportunity for us to grow our product on these beautiful new-build ships, the best hardware available. We developed a unique itinerary on a great vessel, and we sold out through a flyer to our existing customers, even before the brochure was printed.”
Abercrombie & Kent began expanding beyond its original Arctic base in 2013 with an itinerary to Japan, delivering 14-day excursions that travel the length of the island nation. They include daily excursions but also allow guests to follow their whimsy and explore on their own. This is the same model the tour operator will follow in Greece, where an onboard concierge will help travelers who want to create their own agendas.
Guests on A&K's Japanese itineraries will get to experience the best of Japanese gardens.
Younger travelers want freedom and tailor-made itineraries
“The whole sense of luxury comes down to people having the freedom to do their own thing — it’s more and more what people are expecting — and our intent going forward is to continue to develop that," Simpson said. "So, if you don’t want to do any of the things we have planned, we’ll be able to arrange something just for you as long as we have 24 hours’ notice. That will be an added level of tailor-made experience for the guest.” He added that it is very hard to do in the polar regions and Japan because the cost is prohibitive, but in Greece “we’re going to allow them to do it."
Abercrombie & Kent continues to expand in the Arctic as well; it now has four ships offering a wide range of experiences. The “tremendous amount of growth in expedition cruising and the luxury sector” is bringing in a younger and more demanding customer, “up and coming aspirational” rather than bucket-list travelers. They are “younger business people who want to do it now and not wait.” The travelers expect a spa, a balcony, a big cabin, great cuisine, their favorite brand of scotch. And they want experiences like sea kayaking, which “isn’t something our returning clients have necessarily been looking for in the past.”
The new Ponant ships have “all of the water toys” guests might want — and by 2019, Simpson said the company plans to add a sea kayaking program as well. “At the end of the day, people’s time is the most valuable commodity, but they still want the bells and whistles,” he said.
Another “really big resurgent trend” is Africa, where upcoming Abercrombie & Kent trips are “nearly full.” Demand for South America has slipped, though interest in Peru is coming back. For 2019, the tour operator is also considering a “comprehensive, in-depth Italy program;” and a new program for the Kimberleys in Australia, “the northern remote coast, the 'outback of the outback,'” Simpson said.
Tour operator works closely with travel agents
Not surprisingly, the use of travel agents among Abercrombie & Kent customers is very high. “This is a big purchase, it’s not just a commodity, and there is so much variety about where they should go and so many types of products that they want some expertise and guidance. You’re not going to book this online,” Simpson said. "I spend a huge amount of time working with agents; I get a lot of calls from agents who want to pick my brain and make sure they are placing people on the right ship. And we do a lot of training and webinars.”
Indeed, Simpson will be hosting a webinar about Cuba on Thursday for interested travel agents. “It’s an interesting time, with the State Department warning and the whole dynamic of the political structure. That’s having an impact on travel and it’s a shame,” he said. “It’s still a bucket list place to go.” While 75 percent of the February trip to Cuba has sold, “it’s not selling like it was last year.”