Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands are a destination on most people’s bucket list of places they’d love to go before they die. As the world’s third largest marine reserve, it’s a haven for birdlife, wildlife and marine-life.
For independently run cruise operator, Quasar Expeditions, the Galapagos Islands are the very reason the 32-year-old Quito-based company exists today.
Founded and owned by Eduardo and Dolores Diez, the husband and wife bought a French luxury yacht called the Nortada back in the early 80s and began operating cruise itineraries, almost two decades after Dolores fell in love with the destination as a teenager. Having convinced Eduardo to cruise the Galapagos with her on a small trader for just 10 passengers (and a single shared bathroom!), the couple realised the potential for a luxury product in the market. Their vision was to make cruising the Galapagos an intimate, luxurious, flexible and personable experience.
And that’s precisely what the Diez’s have done, according to Quasar Expeditions Sales Manager Eric Andrews. In Sydney last month, Andrews spoke with LATTE’s Managing Editor Guy Dundas to profile the business and reveal the company’s plans to build awareness and market share in the booming Australian outbound market.
Who is Quasar Expeditions and what do you offer that makes you unique?
Quasar is an experiential company in everything that we do. We always try to find product that is unique in the way that it not only looks visually, but also in the way we do things. Really, the business is still based on that philosophy that started 32 years ago. We modernise of course, we go along with the times.
There are these great buzzwords that get thrown around in the market at the moment – “transformational”, “experiential”, “immersive”. Fact is, Quasar Expeditions has been doing that for the past three decades.
We know that’s what it’s all about. Forget everything, disconnect from your day-to-day and connect with the destination.
Can you tell LATTE readers about Quasar Expeditions’ cruise hardware?
We have two boutique style yachts. The 32-passenger/16 cabin M/V Evolution and the 18 passenger/nine cabin M/Y Grace.
The M/V Evolution is a very large yacht for 32. It could have easily accommodated 40 or 44 but we kept it at 32 cause we wanted to provide customers with all the comforts and space they deserve out there so you canconcentrate on the destination.
There are four decks on M/V Evolution. ‘A Deck’, or the “Albatross Deck” is the location of our suites and outdoor social areas. ‘Main Deck’ is the home to diverse and spacious social areas. And below deck we have ‘C’ and ‘D Decks’, also known as the “Cormorant” and “Darwin” Decks, which is where all the staterooms are. That also gives you options in terms of real estate and pricing.
On this ship it´s all about the comforts. This is not a typical small yacht cabin. The largest suite has 24-square-metres. Between the suites and the staterooms, you have either a porthole or a picture window, which is the main difference in addition to the cabin location. Our entry-level cabins are all around 18-square-metres. They all feature walk-in bathrooms and showers, almost like a hotel. There are lots of social areas. This yacht just got renovated at the end of last year. We went with a clean bright look to it. It’s amazing what a white/cream floor will do.
We concentrate on a lot of open spaces, and that’s a big selling point for us. We know that people that go to the Galapagos are people that like to be outdoors.
For the Galapagos Islands in particular, I personally don’t like the small balconies on yachts; 1 – they’re small; 2, – you don’t get any service out there; 3 – more importantly, you only see a tiny bit of what’s going on. The Galapagos is a 360-degree experience.
And another big reason is people that go here, especially on our yachts, are well travelled like-minded people. They like to interact and get to know each other. So we give them that kind of space so they can do just that.
Indoor dining is elegant and cozy. We try to do outdoor dining as much as possible, but beware when you are dining outdoors in the Galapagos. You will have interruptions. There’s a lot going on. You will drop your knife and fork and you’ll be off with your camera in a flash because a pod of orcas are swimming past.
At the bow of the yacht there’s a hot tub, with lots of space.
The M/V Evolution is a great yacht for families.
The M/Y Grace is about half the size. A little more exclusive, a little more intimate, but the layouts are quite similar.
‘A Deck’, or the “Albert Deck” is suites and social areas, the ‘Main Deck’ is social areas with one cabin, and then one deck below is ‘C Deck’, the “Carolina” Deck with only cabins.
M/Y Grace is quite special out there. She has quite an interesting history that’s made her famous. Originally built in 1928 in the UK, she actually went to World War II and was a submarine hunter. She also did the Dunkirk run a few times.
The yacht was then bought by Aristotle Onassis. He gave it to Prince Rainier and Princess Grace as a wedding gift, they spent their honeymoon on the yacht. As you can imagine, it has quite the history, and we’ve kept really good care of her.
Brand new on the ship is the Grace Kelly Suite. This space was previously used as an indoor dining room, but nobody ever wanted to use it. We would deck it out beautifully, but people would come in and say, ‘Can we eat outside?’
After a few years of that we decided to bring back a little bit more of her history. This indoor space was previously the Prince and the Princesses actual Honeymoon Suite, so we brought that back and now it’s the Grace Kelly Suite.
The other cabins and suites onboard are on average about 17-square-metres, so nice for a small yacht. We’ve kept that romantic, classic feel to her because of the ship’s history and it suits her.
There’s lots of outdoor space. All meals are outside, we have drop down windows to protect guests from the weather so they are always comfortable – you can’t blame people for wanting to eat outdoors on this yacht.
You can walk around the outside of the entire yacht and again, lots of outdoor space for you to have your cocktail, relax or hang out with fellow travelling guests.
On both boats we have a high crew to passenger ratio. Almost 2:1 passenger, so you get really well taken care of. We have yachts that are very comfortable, spacious and unique – we definitely stand out there in the Galapagos.
What are the cruise itineraries that you offer?
We only offer seven-night, eight-day cruises and there’s a specific reason that we do that. Honestly, it’s to be fair with the traveller, especially long-haul travellers.
The Galapagos is a once in a lifetime destination. It is a bucket list destination and it’s an investment in time and money, and a pretty sizeable one sometimes. When you go to Galapagos, you have to first go to the mainland and Ecuador. The Galapagos is a national park of Ecuador so you just can’t fly straight to the islands.
All the flights leave early morning from the mainland to the Galapagos, which means you need at least a night prior. More nights are better because there is so much to see and do on mainland Ecuador, but also because you need a bit of a cushion to account for possible delayed flights, lost baggage, etc.
But when you actually fly to the Galapagos that’s actually a travel day. You fly out, you get there about midday, get your cabin, have lunch, have a safety drills and briefings and then a quick excursion – that excursion is only a tiny taste of what’s to come. So it’s just a travel day. Likewise, the last day you are up early, breakfast, excursion, airport… it’s another travel day.
So, let´s say you are doing a five day cruise. You only get three full days out there and you’ve only just finished unpacking, you are just finally getting into the Galapagos world.
The Galapagos is the third largest marine reserve in the world. There is so much to see and do, there is so much to explore. It’s not fair to people if they are not doing a proper at least six full days out there.
And another important thing with us, because we do things that are so tailored and intimate, guests that are on our yachts are all doing the eight days. They will never have to worry about people coming on mid-cruise, which can happen on other yachts that split their itineraries up.
Think about that little “bubble that is created from the very beginning, especially on a small yacht. The dynamics and the relationship start to happen right away between guests, crew the guides. You have someone coming in mid-cruise, that bubble gets popped, and on top of that, you have to start hearing the repeat questions. “You know this stuff already, you’re trying to move forward and learn more but I again need to hear why it´s called a sea lion and not a seal.”
So it actually really does add to the value.
What makes Quasar Expeditions’ product so luxurious?
The experience. It’s a combination of a couple of things. Our yachts are definitely five-star vessels. The accommodations are very comfy, they are very unique. But then really it’s about the people. Who is taking care of you, who is behind the scenes, who is teaching you – for us it’s really a mix of the two.
We keep you safe, very comfortable and very pampered. But the idea is to let you forget about that, so you can really focus on the real reason that you went. Which is the destination.
And the why. I always say it’s first the why, then the how, then the what.
“The why” is, why are you travelling in the first place? We may travel because we want a cocktail on the beach for a week, or because we just want a break, or we want to spend time with loved ones or have a new experience. But what if you can get more. What if you can get more than that? Something deeper.
Quasar Expeditions does not cater to the tourist. We cater to the traveller, and there is a big difference. Travellers are people that are out for something more profound, something deeper. It’s not just a body travelling somewhere to relax or to take a break. It’s the soul, it’s the spirit, it’s the journey of emotions. What we offer takes care of all the comforts. But we want you to connect on a spiritual level, on an emotional level, it’s a bit of a higher level of travel. That for us, is what makes Quasar Expeditions a five-star experience. That’s what makes it luxurious.
You can have a really pretty yacht, you can have a beautiful hotel, but it’s the combination of that with the people that make it five-star.
What is Quasar’s plan for the Australian market now?
We know and respect that the Australian market is more traditional and we especially love to partner with wholesalers here.
We’ve really only just started positioning ourselves and although we started to a while ago, we had some other priorities in terms of markets to really position first. But now we are definitely open and ready to position ourselves in the Australian market.
Do customers from Australia come to you directly?
They do at times, but usually we redirect to the wholesaler, especially in the Australian market. We do that as a show of respect to the market here and the great partnerships that we have with wholesalers. We want to increase our awareness more and are happy to do that the way it’s done here.
For exposure to consumers, preferably we’d partner up with a wholesaler. Some of our existing partners that know us well are Chimu Adventures, Classic Safari Company, Micro Cruising, South American Travel Centre, Eclipse Travel, Contours, South American Tourism Office, and others.
For right now and hopefully for the long term, we really want to have these close partnerships with the trade here because the trade is very present and we think it’s a win-win for all.
What are Quasar Expeditions’ core markets and where do you see growth opportunities?
North America is of course our principal market. For expansion, we are still analyzing. Some we are already getting into in addition to Australia and New Zealand, like the Asia market, which includes Singapore, Philippines, parts of China and India.
Gauging the local market here. Where are they travelling, how long are they going, how much are they spending? What’s going on in terms of numbers and potential growth and projections? With that information we can weigh up the options. Personally I have a very good feeling about the Australian market and having a rep out here.
Who is your competition?
We are unique in the way we do things, but there is definitely competition. In the Galapagos the competition is yachts like Lindblad, Celebrity, and Silversea, but the interesting thing with those is they are not a direct competitor in terms of the types of boats. We are very different. It’s because they tend to expose their product and position themselves within a very similar market, especially in the trade.
We have great positioning with the wholesalers and consortia, like Virtuoso, and they do too, so often times we are at the same trade shows, we are visiting the same kind of clients. Just because, and especially in places like Australia, where Quasar Expeditions is not as known, you have the trade go to their go to’s – their safe bet, Celebrity, Silversea, Lindblad. Until all of a sudden they see what Quasar does and where we are within that market in terms of our service and the standards that we have, then they start to say “Oh look, there’s something new here.” And that’s where we start cutting out our specialized, little niche.
Besides the Galapagos Islands, what other destinations and products does Quasar Expeditions offer?
We offer a unique experience in Patagonia, our Patagonia Overland Safaris, in partnership with Jeep, and we are also a full service DMC and offer completely customised journeys through Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Colombia.
More details on this side of the business in part two of LATTE’s interview with Eric Andrews.
To find out more about Quasar Expeditions, see quasarex.com.