While the entire cruise industry has been facing difficult times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the expedition operators have an added complexity: remote geographies, as outlined in the 2022 Expedition Market Report by Cruise Industry News.
“Expedition is operated in a very different environment. When we are in Antarctica, this type of (operation) is a little more challenging,” said Roberto Martinoli, president and CEO of Silversea Cruises.
Silversea led the return of luxury expedition cruising to Antarctica in November 2021, launching a two-ship program.
According to Martinoli, the challenges in the operation included not only the far-flung nature of the operation, but also the relationship with local authorities.
“We have been learning how to deal with it, and we been having great cooperation with governments in South America. We’ve had really good success in handling it,” he added.
While preparing for the season, members of the Silversea team spent a couple of months in Argentina and Chile – two of the countries involved in Antarctica operations. The company made a big move prior to restarting, moving homeport operations to Puerto Williams in Chile.
For Seabourn, another relevant factor was taking into consideration the actual impact of COVID-19 on the health of guests and crew.
“On the ships, the health outcomes were actually quite good. The reaction was much more dramatic than the health situation,” noted Josh Leibowitz, president of Seabourn.
In Argentina, a ship operation could end up suspended over just one case, with samples being analyzed for a week, he said.
“That kind of management can be very destructive to confidence for people to go,” Leibowitz added.
This scenario led to a cancellation of Seabourn’s 2021-2022 season in Antarctica.
Our team determined that we weren’t going to be able to set up the program in a way that was ready to go,” he explained, adding that he was, however, really proud to see other members of the industry sailing in the region.
Leibowitz also attribute the success of other operators in the region to a “capacity constrained” scenario.
“We only have that many berths, that’s all we can do, and we go. It’s also only a few months out of the year, so I’m not surprised the load factors were fabulous,” he said.