Expedition Cruise Network’s CEO Akvile Marozaite talks to Charlotte Flach about the organisation’s explosive growth and the future of expedition cruising
Can you talk a bit more about how much ECN membership has grown and what you put this down to?
At ECN, we have two types of members: expedition cruise operators and travel trade professionals. Since our launch in April, we have enjoyed unprecedented interest from expedition cruise companies. While our expectations were to secure 12 members by the end of the year, we now count 18 global expedition cruise operators including both well-established names and smaller niche companies, as our members, and we are in talks with a couple more.
As for the travel trade partners, over 650 travel professionals have joined the network since our launch and our database continues to grow daily. We are pleased that our database has attracted a strong mix of travel professionals including home workers, retail travel agents, and specialist tour operators.
We put down our success to the fact that the sector has grown exponentially in the last couple of years and being such a niche form of travel, it reached the point of maturity where there was a need to have its own platform. We feel that by creating the Expedition Cruise Network, we filled that gap and gave the sector its own voice.
Another important goal we aimed to achieve from the onset, and which is paying off, is to make sure joining the network appeals to a varied type of travel professionals interested in selling expedition cruising, instead of focusing exclusively on cruise specialists or adventure travel tour operators.
Regardless of their expertise in selling expedition cruising, there is something of value for everyone interested in selling this phenomenal way of exploring the world.
What are your plans for how you will continue this growth and take ECN to the next level?
This year we launched the most extensive webinar series in the sector to date that is very popular among our members, so we will look to expand that programme in the future. In September, we will host the very first virtual conference dedicated specifically to expedition cruising. In the future, we hope to add in person events and website enhancements to continue adding value to our members, and more.
How will you work closely with travel agents? What role do they play in your plans?
Based on our research and the questionnaire that each travel trade member completes upon joining the network, we find that expedition cruising attracts very diverse types of travel trade professionals, and travel agents are a significant group within that database.
We know that one of the top reasons our members join is to increase their product knowledge, and to address this, we tailor our content to make sure both the beginners and more experienced travel trade professionals can learn something new.
Our member area gives trade professionals access to the directory of expedition cruise companies, our webinar program and past recordings, informative blog posts, a centralised digital brochure rack, reduced travel agent rates to experience expedition cruising themselves, industry events such as ship visit opportunities, and more.
We continuously look at ways to add value to our trade and operator members and eventually would like to become a one-stop-shop for everything expedition cruise related.
Will you offer any new resources, events, fam trips or training? Can you talk a bit about these?
Yes, we are planning to launch in person events next year and we are looking at other ways to continue improving product knowledge. We know that experiencing expedition cruising personally is one of the fastest ways to learn about the product as well as to become a passionate advocate for this form of travel, so we will continue working with our expedition cruise operator members and seek out fam trip opportunities as well as ship visits.
Online training is on our radar too and our members can already access information on individual expedition cruise operator’s online training platforms through our website, further enhancing our commitment to become a one-stop shop for all learning needs as well as providing other learning resources.
What is your vision and predictions for the future of expedition cruising?
Firstly, expedition cruising has certainly become more popular – a Google Trends survey revealed that search terms for Antarctica cruises grew by 50% from 2019 to 2021 and we believe that this trend is only set to grow.
As more people experience iconic expedition cruising destinations such as Antarctica or the Arctic, we expect to see a greater number of people looking further afield to new destinations onboard expedition ships. Destinations such as South America, the Indian Ocean, Mexico’s Baja California, and the British Isles will become increasingly popular.
Another huge shift in the industry, and one that expedition cruising is not immune to, is the desire to travel more sustainably. While there is still a lot to be done to reach the UN’s net zero target by 2050, we believe expedition cruising within the larger cruising industry is certainly leading the way in its quest to become a more sustainable form of travel. Companies such as Hurtigruten and Ponant are committing to launch net zero ships by 2030, AE Expeditions is on track to become a B Corp organization by 2024, and the list just goes on…
We believe with today’s efforts, innovation, and investment into sustainability, expedition cruising will further cement its reputation as a mindful form of travel that contributes to positive personal transformation.