Expedition cruising is up 40 percent this year compared to 2014, say luxury travel agents who are members of the prestigious Virtuoso network. It shows that upmarket clients are looking for high service levels combined with richer, destination-focused, personalized travel experiences.
Virtuoso agents specialize in luxury and experiential travel, and the network, with 9,800 elite travel advisors in 30 countries, is this week holding its 27th annual Virtuoso Travel Week conference in Las Vegas. Aided by the network’s proprietary data warehouse of more than $35 billion in transactions, Virtuoso is recognized in the travel industry as an authoritative trend predictor.
Along with the notable spike in expedition cruising, luxury yacht cruising is seeing strong growth, too, up 15 percent when compared to last year. The numbers are impressive considering that Virtuoso agents say traditional ocean cruising is up just 12 percent over last year.
Silversea Expeditions, a brand of Silversea Cruises, is among the industry leaders in expedition voyages. With three expedition ships sailing to Antarctica, the Arctic, Alaska, Africa, the Russian Far East, the Galapagos and several other exotic destinations, ultra-luxury Silversea Expeditions is a big draw for Virtuoso clients. A spokesman for Silversea says that, this year, Galapagos cruising aboard the Silver Galapagos is the most popular expedition voyage.
Carrying just 100 guests, Silver Galapagos features complimentary exploration activities including Zodiac tours, snorkeling, kayaking and nature hikes led by guides certified by the National Park of the Galápagos. Expedition cruising, in fact, has changed considerably in recent years, from traditionally spartan vessels to contemporary ones with every imaginable amenity and luxury.
“Adventure and expedition cruising is extremely hot today, especially when combined with a luxury twist. We believe that exploration cruises combine extremely well with an utterly all-exclusive product. We’ve all heard the expression ‘been there, done that,’ but when guests set sail on a Silversea Expeditions voyage, they haven’t been here, and they haven’t done this. A lot of people may see us as a luxury cruise line that offers expeditions, but we are now one of the leaders in expedition cruises. This is something we’re extremely proud of,” says Kristian C. Anderson, Silversea’s senior vice president and general manager, the Americas.
In tandem with its annual conference, Virtuoso also revealed its top 10 destinations for 2015: Italy, New Zealand, Mexico, France, U.K., China, South Africa, Germany, Australia and Canada. And it identified destinations that have seen the biggest surge in bookings, year-over-year: Vietnam, up 270 percent; Canada, up 34 percent; India, up 212 percent; US Virgin Islands, up 32 percent and French Polynesia, up 90 percent.
Virtuoso agents cater to well-heeled and well-traveled clients who depend on an agent for personalized service. According to Matthew D. Upchurch, the network’s chairman and CEO: “Today’s consumers purchase travel in a much more personalized way, looking for attributes in products and services that reflect who they are and the lifestyles they lead. They self-identify based on how they view themselves, and they have a multitude of travel personalities depending on where they are going and who is traveling with them. Our goal is to create an enriching experience every time, whether they’re traveling to someplace more known like Europe or a destination further afar like Southeast Asia.” Virtuoso is an invitation-only agency membership network.