This week LATTE chats with the Sales team at Quark Expeditions, in Australia and based in Toronto, to learn how the polar expedition specialist is handling the coronavirus crisis and its impact on operations. We also discuss the upcoming seasons and the new ship, Ultramarine.
Providing input in our exclusive interview are Quark Expeditions’ Vice President of Sales, Thomas Lennartz, and Global Partnership Director, Meg Murgatroyd, in Toronto; and Asia Pacific Regional Sales Director, Jarrod Zurvas, and APAC Sales and Marketing Manager, Sarah Arane.
1. How has Quark Expeditions been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic?
Thomas Lennartz (TL): For those of us who work in the polar expedition industry, being thrown off course and having to reroute your journey is a familiar experience. When met with challenges, you come up with new strategies. Sometimes the thickness and extent of the pack ice demands that we choose another route. Gale-force winds render an anticipated shore landing inaccessible. So the team adjusts and explores alternate paths, and wisely navigates other more viable options.
And that’s what we’ve done throughout COVID-19. When global travel restrictions were announced, we made sure all of our expedition team who were out in the field on Antarctic expeditions were brought home. While our Antarctic 20/21 and Antarctic 21/22 seasons will go ahead, unfortunately, global and regional travel restrictions outside of our control have meant we’ve had to suspend Arctic voyages for the remainder of 2020.
Basically, we did what we’ve done throughout 30 years of exploring the polar regions: We adjusted our course to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone within the Quark Expeditions family.
2. Did any Quark Expeditions’ guests or crew contract COVID-19?
TL: We’re pleased to say that none of our crew or guests have tested positive for COVID-19. We took immediate steps to ensure the safety and well-being of on-ship staff, guests, and our team in the office as soon as social distancing guidelines were first implemented earlier this year. Fortunately, safety has long been a priority for the Quark Expeditions team. It’s in our DNA to sanitise our gear – and that of our guests – to protect the polar regions. We’re very well- attuned to the importance of preventing the spread of any virus.
3. Did Quark Expeditions halt cruising operations, and if so, when does the cruise line expect to resume service?
TL: As a result of the global travel restrictions currently in place to contain the spread of COVID-19, we have made the tremendously difficult decision to suspend all our Arctic voyages for the remainder of 2020.
We’re saddened that so many people have to postpone their much-anticipated Arctic adventure. But after consultation with relevant authorities in all of the Arctic regions we visit, and on the advice of our seasoned partners and staff, it’s the best decision, albeit one of the most difficult.
Rest assured we’re still able and eager to fulfil travellers’ polar dreams as the Antarctica 20/21 season continues. We’re looking forward to resuming full operations of the Quark Expeditions fleet at the end of October 2020 on World Explorer, Ocean Diamond and Ocean Adventurer.
In more good news, we’re excited to announce that our Antarctica 2021/22 season is now ready to book. Our Antarctic 2021/22 lineup – which also marks our 30th anniversary sailing season – includes five brand-new itineraries and the inaugural Antarctic sailing season of our new ship Ultramarine.
Guests can retrace the route of heroic polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton on a journey from Antarctica to South Georgia, or select one of two Total Solar Eclipse voyages in the Antarctic. Plus, we have new voyages to Patagonia (which feature the incredible Chilean Fjords and Torres del Paine) and historic Cape Horn and Diego Ramirez Islands, the most southern point of South America and one of the least-explored places on the planet.
4. Is Quark Expeditions’ new ship Ultramarine still on track for its Arctic debut in 2021?
Meg Murgatroyd (MM): Yes, Ultramarine is still on schedule for its Arctic debut in 2021. Our game-changing ship is being built in Brodosplit, the largest shipyard in Croatia. Designed by Quark Expeditions to give polar adventurers unprecedented access to the hardest-to-reach places on the planet, Ultramarine is the culmination of three decades of venturing beyond the predictable in polar exploration. Equipped with two twin-engine helicopters and 20 quick-launching Zodiacs, Ultramarine will go where few have ever gone.
5. What are some of Ultramarine’s innovations that are new for Quark Expeditions, and the expedition cruise market?
MM: The creation of the technologically-advanced Ultramarine signals the beginning of an unprecedented new era in polar exploration. Among the innovations guests can expect onboard Ultramarine we’re incredibly proud of:
- Two twin-engine helicopters to take guests places ships can’t reach.
- 20 quick-launching Zodiacs to get visitors deeper, further, faster into the polar regions.
- More onboard wildlife viewing stations than any ship of its size, so guests are always connected to the polar regions even when on the ship.
- The largest selection of adventure options in the entire industry: The introduction of two twin-engine helicopters allows us to offer innovative off-ship adventures.
- Advanced sustainability technology: Ultramarine will include technical features that will minimise the ship’s environmental footprint to an extent previously unseen for a vessel of this size. The Micro Auto Gasification System (MAGS) converts waste into energy; four diesel engines to meet fluctuating power needs; a heat recovery system; eco-friendly lighting; and a re-imagined hull and propeller design that ensures the lowest possible resistance (which translates into energy savings).
- Ultramarine is designed with luxurious spa-class suites and superior onboard comfort: even featuring a sauna with floor-to-ceiling windows enabling guests to stay connected to the polar landscape while they rejuvenate and relax after a day exploring off-ship.
6. Can you tell us more about the unique off-ship experiences that will be available in the polar regions?
MM: The introduction of two twin-engine helicopters (and the 20 quick-launching Zodiacs) allows us to introduce off-ship adventures never-before-offered in the polar regions. Guests will be able to customise their expedition experience by choosing from an array of adventure options including heli-hiking, flight-seeing, alpine kayaking, heli-mountain biking, sea kayaking and many more.
7. Can you expand on the heli-hiking, alpine kayaking and camping opportunities – where will they be offered, what do they involve and how much extra for these experiences?
Camping options: People sometimes find it hard to believe but camping is an option on the 7th Continent. Guests spend the night snug and warm in an all-weather sleeping bag under the glow of the polar sky with an intimate group of campers. Just imagine telling your friends and loved ones upon returning home: “Yes, I went overnight camping in Antarctica!”, your bragging rights will last a lifetime.
We also offer camping in the Arctic, specifically our new Greenland Camp Experience, where guests join local hosts at one of the most exclusive camps in Greenland: Tasermiut. Our local guides lead guests on an immersive experience through the wonders of their homeland, where they will walk through the beautiful landscapes and remote fjords, roaming the tundra with a local chef who will point out local ingredients and then prepare an incredible meal. Guests then overnight at the camp and experience the magnificent colours of the polar twilight and beautiful mountainous surroundings Greenland has to offer.
Heli-hiking: The addition of Ultramarine, with its two choppers, means guests can go heli- hiking in the polar regions. Our helicopters will transfer guests to the start of the most scenic hiking routes and then pick them up at the endpoint of the route. Each heli-hiking departure will be tailored to guests’ personal needs and level of interest. They may choose to join one of our fast walking groups who will go for exploration and distance, one of our medium hiking routes where there will be plenty of time to stop for photography and reflection or to explore at a slower pace with ample time to enjoy the scenery and immerse themselves in their surroundings.
Alpine kayaking: This is new to the Greenland Adventure Program offering in 2021, thanks to the helicopters on Ultramarine. Expert kayak guides will take guests to remote glacial lakes high in the upper alpine zones of Southern Greenland, where they can immerse themselves in complete tranquillity in the untouched and raw beauty of these isolated lakes.
8. Quark Expeditions has just announced its 2021/22 Antarctica program. What’s the one major highlight of the program that you think guests will be most keen to experience?
Jarrod Zurvas (JZ): The fact that it’s Ultramarine’s inaugural season in the Antarctic will surely entice many travellers. The launch of this technologically-advanced ship is a game-changer in how we will explore and experience Antarctica.
My pick that many polar and history lovers will be eager to join is the ‘Celebrating Shackleton: Journey from Antarctica to South Georgia’.
Guests will sail on Ultramarine, following the route of Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914–1917), allowing passengers to experience the full splendour of Antarctica and South Georgia while exploring on Ultramarine’s dual helicopters and Zodiacs.
The voyage includes crossing the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula, visiting the Weddell Sea (where the ill-fated Endurance met its tragic end), then sailing on to Elephant Island and, ultimately, wildlife-rich South Georgia, where if conditions allow, guests will pay homage to Shackleton at his grave at Grytviken in time to commemorate the centenary of his passing in 1922.
Throughout the voyage, passengers will enjoy presentations by special guests; polar experts Tim Jarvis (author of Chasing Shackleton) and Dr Ross MacPhee, who curated groundbreaking museum exhibit ‘The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition’.
9. Does Quark offer a travel agent training program so agents unfamiliar with the brand can enhance their knowledge?
Sarah Arane (SA): Quark Expeditions offers travel agents access to our Partner Resource Centre (PRC) providing advisors with the tools necessary to feel confident in selling trips to the polar regions. This portal for the travel advisor community features a wealth of information and resources developed exclusively for travel agents.
These resources include:
- Front of the line access to product and promotion updates.
- Dates and rates for all available sailing seasons in a range of currencies.
- Brand assets, imagery and video content.
- Quark Expeditions brochures and white-labelled marketing collateral.
- Trade-focused educational and training webinars.
10. What marketing projects has Quark Expeditions got in the pipeline for the future to promote itself in the competitive expedition cruise space?
SA: At the moment, we’re continuing to focus our marketing efforts and campaigns on the polar regions we visit – even if people can’t travel there right now.
In Australia and New Zealand, for instance, our team is very much focused on getting the Quark Expeditions’ brand out there – in front of the trade and consumer audiences. And we’ll never waiver from one of our core concepts: positioning Quark Expeditions as the most knowledgeable source of information on the polar regions, highlighting that we’ve been the leader in polar adventure travel since 1991.
We’re hosting numerous webinars and information sessions in Australia for travel industry professionals and also their VIP customers to help them understand the many different facets of the polar regions. This allows us to inspire our potential guests with Quark Expeditions’ incredible travel products, even if it’s not face to face or for travel right now. We have excellent resources to share that will help keep consumers dreaming of travel. When the time is right for consumers to book that long-awaited trip, we want Quark Expeditions to be the first brand name that comes to mind for guests who are ready to press “play” on their ultimate polar adventure.
11. Final question – LATTE’s signature question – What is your favourite coffee shop/outlet, and what is your ‘go-to’ coffee order?
Quark Expedition’s Toronto team: JetFuel Coffee Shop in the Cabbagetown area of Toronto. “It’s an indie coffee shop where professionals sidle up to the counter next to bike couriers. It’s has a relaxed and laid-back vibe.” The go-to java fix is an iced Americano.
SA: Living on the coast, I’m a fan of any coffee shop with fresh air and an amazing view- but my go-to would have to be the Haven Café in Terrigal, NSW. It’s located on the point of Terrigal Haven where there’s a nice stretch of sand for a quiet moment, and a nearby dog off-leash area to get my puppy fix too! My pick: a mocha.