This article is part of Travel Market Report’s “2019 Outlook on Expedition Cruising,” which was released last week. The Outlook, sponsored by Seabourn, surveyed 660 travel advisors between Feb. 6 and 14, 2019, on their experience selling expedition cruises.
The report, available here, shows that the number of advisors who plan to start selling expedition cruises this year or next will double, in time for a wave of new ships and new itineraries from cruise lines across the board.
A finalist for Signature Travel Network’s Michelle Morgan Leadership Award 2017, Mary Montgomery Nielson specializes “in my clients, instead of the destination, so that I may meticulously cultivate genuine, transformational, pure life experiences, and tantalizing experiential itineraries tailored to inspiring destinations around the world.” That said, she considers expedition cruises an area she specializes in.
Her expedition cruise sales increased by more than 50% last year and she expects them to jump another 26%-50% this year. She tells us, clients wouldn't have considered an expedition cruise if she hadn't recommended one to them.
Her category clients are well-traveled; they sail on luxury ships and river cruises; like to travel to exotic and remote destinations; and they like to travel in groups with friends and family.
She says clients are most interested in the destinations and itineraries of the cruises. They want close-up experiences with nature and wildlife, and they want a cultural experience with locals they will meet. The Amazon, Arctic, Antarctica, Argentina/Chile, and Papua New Guinea are the places in which she sees the most interest.
While her clients want a luxury experience as part of their expedition cruise, they understand that they may not have the same luxuries and service levels as the hotels and ships they normally use.
The two biggest challenges she sees are that the quality of current expedition cruise ships is lacking, and the limited inventory for the times and places her clients want to go.
To promote expedition cruises, she uses her personal blog, social media, marketing programs from her consortia, events she hosts for potential clients, consumer travel shows, and referrals from current clients.
TMR: How long have you been selling expedition cruises?
Mary Montgomery Nielson: I’ve been selling expedition cruises for 20 years.
TMR: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the market?
MMN: I am excited by the changes that are sprouting up in the expedition cruising market! The market is definitely taking the lead to play their part in the world climate crises by developing ground-breaking hybrid sailing ships that are state-of-the-art. The new explorer ships are leading the way, and will definitely revolutionize adventure cruising with cutting-edge technology. These ships are committed to sustainability with their reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. This will definitely enhance the passenger’s experience with nature, to be able to sail completely silent.
TMR: How do you think the new inventory will change the market?
MMN: I believe that the new market of hybrid ships will definitely shake up the market. In my personal business, I have seen a complete shift away from the enormous ships; clients expressing interest in sailing with fewer passengers onboard so that they experience a more up-close-and-personal adventure. The demand for the unique, transformational, and experiential takeaways is most important to my clients.
TMR: What advice would you give to agents who want to sell the market?
MMN: Learn as much as possible about the product and their destinations. Get to know your local business development reps; they are a wealth of information. Never hesitate to ask questions. There are never too many questions. And when you are able, participate in a familiarization trip — this is where you learn the most.
TMR: Anything else you would like to add regarding expedition cruises?
MMN: This industry is exciting, and I am so happy to see them step up to the plate to play their part in the climate crisis. They will definitely change how we will see the world in the future.