This week LATTE chats with Jarrod Zurvas, Quark Expeditions’ Regional Sales Director, Asia Pacific.
Jarrod has been in the travel industry for over 10 years and joined the Arctic cruise specialist in early 2018, following roles with Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and Carnival Australia.
The travel-junkie has traversed the world, having visited more than 70 countries, and has explored both the Arctic and Antarctic on multiple occasions, continuing to broaden his knowledge of the polar regions.
Jarrod, Quark Expeditions is celebrating 30 years of operation as a polar specialist. Could you foresee entering into other markets besides the Arctic and Antarctica in the future?
We have been focused on the polar regions longer than anyone else in the industry, and that focus shows in our track record of firsts – we were the first to bring commercial travellers to the North Pole, first to circumnavigate Antarctica, first to successfully take travellers to the remote Snow Hill Island Penguin rookery…the list goes on.
Our mission and passion have remained the same since our inception: to continue redefining the frontiers of polar exploration, and to provide guests from around the globe life-changing experiences in these breathtaking regions. For now, we have no plans to extend beyond that focus, but you never know!
Twelve months ago, Quark Expeditions announced the upcoming launch of a new expedition ship in 2020, Ultramarine. Why does this new vessel represent such an important development for Quark Expeditions?
Polar passengers today want to go places others haven’t gone and see things others haven’t seen, and they want to do it in comfort and luxury. It’s these changes in customer inclinations that prompted us to conceive Ultramarine, which is an industry game-changer. Our first purpose-built polar expedition ship, it will take our guests to areas thought previously inaccessible in ways thought previously impossible.
Let me give just a few examples. The ship has two helipads and helicopters, allowing more passengers to simultaneously experience new destinations accessible only by air. It has quick-launching Zodiacs based closer to the water level, so our Expedition Teams can get guests out into the polar regions faster than ever before.
And it allows us to expand our already robust adventure portfolio so that, in addition to options like sea kayaking, paddle-boarding and ski-trekking, passengers can now experience, for the first time ever, amazing activities like heli-hiking, heli-skiing and flightseeing. Suffice it to say that Ultramarine allows our guests to experience the polar regions from all three perspectives – land, sea and air – in ways that will stay with them forever.
Sustainability has been a buzzword for the cruise industry for the past few years. Can you tell us about Quark Expeditions’ sustainability projects and, more so, specifically regarding Ultramarine?
We are constantly seeking ways to make environmental improvements to our ships and in our operations. In 2017, we became the first operator in the space to all but eliminate single-use plastics on our ships, and we also recently redesigned our parkas to use more environmentally responsible materials. In spring 2019, we unveiled our formal Polar Promise, a comprehensive sustainability strategy that includes concrete goals and a specific timeline for meeting them.
Ultramarine is the flagship example of this commitment. Its pioneering mix of advanced sustainability features reduces its environmental impact to an extent unseen for a polar vessel of this size. These innovations include Silent E technology, minimising disturbance to wildlife; a recovery system that salvages useful energy from the engine and returns it to the ship’s systems, reducing the amount of energy needed to heat it; IMO Tier III-compliant engines that ensure all exhaust gases are scrubbed and noxious elements removed; Dynamic Positioning technology that allows the ship to hold position in areas where anchoring might cause damage to sea beds; a treatment system that ensures water discharged is cleaner than that taken in; and a sophisticated gasification system that reduces on-board waste by a whopping 95%. With these and other technological innovations, Ultramarine represents a new chapter of sustainability and environmental consciousness.
Apart from reducing our own footprint, we also work with others in the industry to foster environmental improvements. We support environmental initiatives and organisations such as Polar Bears International, the only organisation dedicated solely to wild polar bears; Penguin Watch, a citizen science project to monitor penguin populations in the Southern Ocean; and Seabird Watch, aimed at measuring the colony populations of various other seafaring birds.
And we participate in various ecological programs, such as Clean Up Svalbard, a Norway-based waste-removal program overseen in concert with AECO, the South Georgia Heritage Trust, a project to help protect the flora and fauna of South Georgia and preserve its history, and SeaGreen, a new recycling program in Ushuaia.
Finally, we work alongside both the Arctic and Antarctic governing organisations, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) and the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), to help establish regulations that reduce the impact of tourism in the polar regions and promote the practice of safe and environmentally responsible travel.
Ultramarine will have the capability of operating voyages of up to 70 days. At the moment, the 2020/21 Antarctica season offers expeditions from eight to 23 days. Is there scope in the future to offer voyages of up to 70 days?
Our offerings are always designed to reflect customer preferences and needs. We assemble our trips to ensure that people will be away for an amount of time that makes sense for them while allowing them to enjoy the kinds of experiences they will never forget. Most guests show a preference for trips in that one- to three-week range. But you’re right – Ultramarine’s best-in-class operational range would allow us to do multiple voyages in remote locations where fuel is less accessible, should the demand arise. It’s another way in which Quark Expeditions is distinct among industry providers.
Is a circumnavigation of Antarctica in the cards again for Quark using Ultramarine? And is a voyage to Antarctica’s “Phantom Coast” already in the pipeline?
Ultramarine’s 70-day range puts Antarctic circumnavigation well within the vessel’s capabilities. That is just one consideration among many for future itineraries. Stay tuned!
Can you tell us more about the Quark Academy? What it is, and how do guests benefit?
Quark Academy is a proprietary internal training program designed to ensure that every one of our expedition staff is qualified to meet Quark Expeditions’ exacting standards of leadership, knowledge and expertise. Staff work through a variety of theoretical and practical sessions, exploring areas such as Principles of Leadership and Guiding, Risk and Safety Management, Expedition Navigation and Small Vessel Operation. Direct mentoring and shadowing from senior team members, coupled with practical and theoretical training and formal assessment, means that every one of our expedition staff emerge from the Academy fully prepared to provide our guests the optimal polar experience.
What are you most excited about for the upcoming seasons?
We are tremendously excited about the launch of Ultramarine because of what it means for our guests: an unprecedented mix of on-ship comforts and off-ship adventures, the chance to go further into the polar regions than ever before, and the opportunity for experiences most people will never have. Our mission is to continue pushing the boundaries of polar exploration and creating life-changing experiences for our guests. Ultramarine allows us to do both, in ways no one else has ever done.
What are your thoughts on the expansion of luxury cruise companies into the expedition market and offering polar voyages? Are they getting in over their heads?
The polar regions are spectacular but unforgiving. To escort passengers safely into these regions, and to be able to respond to the nuances of the environment, an operator requires highly specialised knowledge and expertise. Quark Expeditions has spent three decades developing this knowledge and expertise by travelling exclusively to these areas. It is why we know how to meet the severe logistical, environmental and commercial complexities they present, and it is why we are able to venture further into them than any other provider.
It is not a small learning curve.
Why is the Australian market important to Quark Expeditions? Where is it positioned in terms of global market share, and is it a growing market?
Quark Expeditions has been bringing Australian guests to Antarctica for over 20 years. Australia is our third-largest market, after the US and China, and we are proud to say that Quark Expeditions has had the pleasure of taking more Australians to Antarctica than any other operator. In the last five years alone, we’ve brought over six thousand Aussies there, and we look forward to bringing more.
The Australian market is an important and growing one. Nearly one third of total Antarctic tourists in 2018 were Australian. The numbers also show that Aussies are becoming more and more inclined to visit Antarctica: Australian tourism to the area grew 41% in 2018, significantly outpacing the overall market increase. In other words, it’s clear Antarctica is a priority destination for Aussies, and we are more than happy to be the top choice to take them there!
And Jarrod finally, LATTE’s signature question – where is your favourite coffee house and what is your ‘go to’ beverage?
Even though I live in Melbourne the best coffee I have ever had is the Coffee Doctor in China Town Mall Brisbane. The owner takes roasting beans in store to another level! My go to drink is a triple-shot flat white.