More and more travelers are choosing expedition cruising, but who are they and what are their interests and expectations? Getting to know this growing market is key to reaching them and increasing advisor sales.
Luxury and expedition cruising are the fastest growing market segment, according to a recent Cruise Industry New Industry Report. This sector's dramatic growth from 67,000 passengers in 2021 to 367,557 in 2022 — a 450 percent increase — is thanks to travelers' growing desire for authentic, exclusive experiences to remote destinations. The report projects more than 430,000 passengers per year will be sailing this way by 2027.
As the market is expanding, so is the profile of the expedition traveler. They're not just adventure seekers. They have varied interests — including history, fishing and scuba, and cooking — and tend to be very worldly, intellectual travelers. And, like most travelers across the industry spectrum, they're looking for an experience they'll never forget. With this global demand for immersive experiences, advisors can offer their ‘been-there, seen-that’ clients an exciting voyage that ticks multiple boxes off their wish lists.
Appealing to a broader audience
Research conducted by Seabourn revealed that within the luxury traveler population, 62 percent of 35-69-year-olds had never heard of expedition cruising, but after learning about the category, 20 percent say they’d be extremely interested in joining an expedition, even if they’ve never cruised before. Sales opportunities for travel advisors are likely to increase in this sector as all kids of potential cruisers discover the allure of small ship sailing.
“I'm seeing some clients who have done the big ships several times and want to get out to areas those ships don't go to. They're choosing the expedition side and they're interested with those bucket-list destinations like Antarctica, Galapagos, Arctic, Northwest Passage, and Kimberley, Australia — places that are more challenging to get to,” says Gillian Clark, a Seattle, Washington-based cruise consultant at Cruise Specialists, a division of Travel Leaders Group.
“And it's not about checking a port off their list; it’s about experiencing the nature and culture of specific destinations.”
Angela Hughes, owner of Trips and Ships Luxury Travel in Winter Garden, Florida, counts the well-traveled among her expedition cruise clients. “These are people doing their sixth and seventh continents, but we're also seeing a big emergence of the 40-to-65 active markets,” says Hughes.
“Multi-gen travel is so super sizzling hot right now that people would rather spend their inheritance and do something really amazing.”
Younger, never-cruised-before customers in their 30s and 40s have been flocking to expedition cruising as well, says Tracey Teuber, owner of Unraveled Travel in Buckeye, Arizona.
“They really enjoy the expedition nature of it and the fact that not that many people have been to the destination,” says Teuber, noting that this group wants to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip earlier in life while they’re still fit enough to enjoy it.
“I do have some loyal-to-brand cruisers that are excited to have new itineraries with cruise lines they love — they’re going for a nice balance between the cruise line and the destination. I also have some very expedition-focused folks from 20-years-old to 80-years-old are going for the adventure of it.”
Discovering far-flung gems
Of course, it’s the extraordinary destinations that really attract people to this category and as more lines compete in this space, the ports expand accordingly. No longer limited to freezing cold, polar regions, expedition cruise lines are offering jaunts to tropical and subtropical regions, or other regions where travelers can be immersed in local gastronomy or history. Increasingly, expedition-interested travelers are looking for an opportunity to encounter cultures first-hand and interact with the peoples whose communities they're visiting.
“Initially, people thought of expedition cruising as being only Antarctica and the Arctic, and now we're moving heavily into the Amazon, Greenland, and all up around northern Canada — destinations we've never seen before,” says Hughes.
“Some super popular spots include Kimberley, Australia, the small, untouched islands around Indonesia and Patagonia. This opens a whole new ball game for people who don't want to go to cold weather or don't want to cross the Drake Passage.”
Travelers are especially interested in exotic locales like the Galapagos Islands, Indonesian archipelagos including the Spice Islands and Raja Ampat, and Borneo and Papua New Guinea. Seabourn recently announced thrilling expedition voyages for 2024-2025 aboard Pursuit and Venture that will head to the South Pacific, the Arctic and Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland and Kimberley.
Hardcore adventure or gentle journeys
Clark dispels the myth that only elite athletes will enjoy this type of cruising. "It's important that passengers and advisors not be intimidated by the expedition name, feeling like they must be able to run five miles in a day; that's not necessarily true. You don't have to do it all every day,” she says.
In fact, expedition travelers are interested a wide range of special interests including food/wine and cooking, activities such as hiking and cycling, as well as reading, music and history — all of which can be appreciated onboard an expedition ship.
“Guests can select what best suits them and there isn't a speed bump if one guest wants to do something and the other wants to do something else. For example, I have a couple of fellows traveling together; one recently recovered from cancer and isn't as active as he’d like to be, but his traveling companion certainly is. So, he can ride along in the Zodiac while his traveling companion is kayaking, and both can equally have a wonderful experience.”
Hughes agrees that activities are catered to whatever expedition clients choose. “There’s kayaking, paddleboarding, helicoptering, hiking on the island — unique experiences you're not going to get on a regular cruise,” she says.
Other activities to sell clients on include mountaineering, rock climbing, polar diving and snorkeling. Expedition cruisers tend to live active lifestyles but will also appreciate the onboard activities that feature visiting experts lecturing on topics like photography, wildlife or history that will help maximize visits ashore.
“For me, having a Master's in geography and being a former professor, one of the biggest draws to expedition cruising was having that extra academic piece on the off-time,” adds Hughes.
Selling the value
In addition to highlighting the bucket-list factor and detailing the memorable experiences on offer, advisors should consider sharing their first-hand knowledge while focusing on the overall concept, says Teuber.
“You can sell the typical cruise selling points — you only unpack once, you travel while you're asleep — that still apply to expedition cruises and appeal to people,” she suggests, adding that it’s important to qualify what’s available.
And cost shouldn’t be the focus, notes Clark. “Don’t be afraid of the price. Travel advisors are not bankers; we're there to share an experience, so you must grab hold of that thought move that ball forward,” she says.
“Work with operators that work with you because if you work with quality operators, you can dial it up or down. Maybe clients don’t have to be in the top suite, for example. They can go in a less expensive, lovely outside cabin where they're very comfortable and be in a five-star destination.”
Courting the crossover client
Clark sees big potential for clients moving from African safaris and river cruises or from expedition into the ocean cruising category. “You can take your luxury and premium clients who have done big destinations and now are looking for their bragging points,” she explains.
“I have clients that just went to Antarctica on the expedition side and absolutely loved it. They didn't really have any idea what they were going to be experiencing, but since they came home, they're armed and dangerous — ready to cross over to the classic side and know they'll have the lovely dining experiences they had in Antarctica and a butler in their stateroom — the kinds of things they didn't realize they would become enamored with."
Expedition cruises are a growing sector in Hughes’ business. “It's one of our biggest focuses right now. Anything that's remote and Instagrammable is really appealing to people,” she says.
“It starts initially as a bucket-list item but once somebody's been on a small-ship expedition, they love the size, they love the service, and they return to do it again.”
Taking the Lead in Expeditions
Cruise Lines International Association’s research predicts the expedition sector's growth will continue as new ships and lines make their debut — catering to clients seeking memorable, off-the-beaten-track holidays. Nine new expedition ships entered the market in 2022, including Seabourn Venture. More are slated to launch in 2023, such as Seabourn Pursuit which will carry two custom-built submarines, 24 Zodiacs, multiple kayaks plus a 24-person expert expedition team.
And with new ships coming onboard, a larger field of destinations are being explored. Clients who have traveled to South Africa, the Seychelles or Dubai are also good prospects for luxury expedition cruising.
“We're spreading to so many countries now, and Seabourn is one of the leaders in this with options in Latin America. Add in the Amazon and Greenland makes people repeat travelers,” says Gillian Clark, a Seattle, Washington-based cruise consultant at Cruise Specialists, a division of Travel Leaders Group.
Seabourn’s ultra-luxury Expedition ships are purpose-built to directly connect your clients with nature’s wildest environments. Seabourn expedition voyages combine adventures in remote destinations with ultra-luxury. Destinations include Antarctica, the British Isles and Arctic, Northwest Passage, South Pacific and Kimberley region of Northeastern Australia.
The Seabourn Difference
What makes Seabourn's expeditions different? Take a closer look:
>132 Oceanfront suites. Designed for adventurers and curated with fine furnishings, these ocean-front suites all feature expansive views, opening onto private verandas for relaxing, wildlife and landscape viewing, or entertaining.
>26-Person expedition team. Your Seabourn guides are a select group of academics, scientists, and naturalists. On board, they provide insights into the nature, history and culture of your destinations and guide your off-ship expedition to enrich your experience.
>Five continents. Seabourn Venture & Seabourn Pursuit will escort you to the far reaches of five continents. These wondrous sites provide endless opportunities for enrichment and adventure.
>Two 6-person submarines. The only way to experience this otherworldly realm is by submarine, and at Seabourn these undersea explorations take place in custom-built submarines crafted to be the best in the sea. These submersibles offer unique and unforgettable undersea experiences for Expedition guests. They offer breathtaking views of realms beneath Antarctic waters, underwater cliffs, or reefs in tropical seas.
Each environmentally friendly, battery-powered sub carries just seven people — six guests, three each in two clear acrylic spheres — plus the highly trained pilot guiding the journey. The intimate and innovative new exploration vehicles are capable of diving to depths of 300 meters (984 feet) offering passengers an awe-inspiring perspective of the marine world just outside.
Announcing 2024-25 Expedition Cruises
Seabourn invites you to embark on an adventure like no other. Journey to remote regions of the world, surrounding yourself with breathtaking landscapes and unforgettable wildlife encounters. These new itineraries offer options in Antarctica, Greenland and Iceland, the South Pacific and their first ever visit to the Kimberley region of Australia.
For more information on Seabourn's unique expedition offerings, visit www.Seabourn.com.