Small ship expedition cruise operator Captain Cook Cruises Fiji is emerging from the pandemic pause with renewed energy, new experiences, activities and a seven-night voyage.
Speaking exclusively with LATTE, Allison Haworth West, CEO of Captain Cook Cruises Fiji says the relaunch of tourism to the island nation this month provides an opportunity for Australians still wary of travelling long-haul with an “achievable destination” safeguarded by robust health and safety protocols.
“For the cruise sector, there’ll be people that won’t want to go on big ships anymore, but they might be interested in going on a smaller vessel, where their bedroom door comes to an outside deck and there’s outdoor dining and fresh air from the ocean, and warm temperatures.”
Haworth West, now the majority stakeholder in the company, alongside sister Jackie Haworth-Charlton, Senior Manager of Captain Cook Cruises Fiji, used the COVID-19 pause to assess the business and look at new opportunities.
Captain Cook Cruises Fiji’s primary product is the 63 room Reef Endeavor small ship. The vessel was designed for the tropics (originally built to sail out of Cairns to Lizard Island) and operates a series of three-, four-, seven- and 11-night voyages.
The company also operates a tall-ship day cruise from Port Denarau to the island of Tivau Island, which offers white-sand beaches and coral reefs for snorkelling and diving – experiences guests staying at Denarau and Nadi resorts won’t get on-site. Captain Cook Cruises Fiji (CCC Fiji) also operates Sunset Cruises aboard the Fiji One catamaran.
“When we went into COVID, we had a company that was doing really well. Everybody loves what we do, we have extreme loyalty (a 25% return rate), but I believe we were probably underselling ourselves in terms of the look and feel of our brand. So we had a refresh on the branding and the positioning.”
“And one of the things that I believe we’ve probably undersold ourselves on is our level of marine science activity,” Haworth West told LATTE.
“We have always carried marine biologists on board doing lectures and sustainability activities, conservation activities, and the like. And for years we’ve had an Ocean Ambassador program on every voyage, where our Ocean Ambassador crew member goes ashore and collects rubbish off the beach, weighs it, and logs it, and passengers can get involved too,” she explained.
Sitting on the board of Trustees of the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation (part of the Australian Museum), Haworth-West clearly has a passion for marine science and conservation, and it’s those areas that Captain Cook Cruises Fiji is now looking to make a louder noise. Her interest has led to the creation of Captain Cook Cruises Fiji’s Citizen Scientist program aboard Reef Endeavor.
“We have projects for each of our cruises. We have our own naturalist onboard that provides passengers access to observations of species that have been made in each location by using iNaturalist, as well as the opportunity to upload their own observations and even discover a new species as a result.
“It’s really fantastic because it’s not that widely done in Fiji.”
Also at the beginning of COVID, Captain Cook Crusies Fiji started ramping up its coral planting initiative at Tivua Island. Now passengers can take part in the ‘Buy a Coral Build a Reef’ program.
A new 7-night itinerary to the lesser-visited Lau Group of islands trialed with the local market has proven a success. Most of Fiji’s marine tourism centres on the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands, and the Coral Coast, whereas the Lau Group is a remote chain of about 100 islands located midway between Fiji and Tonga. CCC Fiji introduced an 11-night voyage to the Lau islands nearly 10 years ago, but the abridged week-long version was developed during the pandemic to cater for the local Fijian market.
“During the pandemic, the break of international visitors saw the people of Fiji doing their own local tourism, and our Lau cruise filled up. Fijians were aware just how beautiful it is there, and they all wanted to go.”
“There are no planes, no hotels. Just a couple of guest houses or people renting out rooms. There’s basically no tourism infrastructure and some parts are largely unexplored there,” Haworth West said.
Following a number of successful departures, Howarth said the optimised itinerary would be maintained with a handful of departures throughout 2022. The first of which is scheduled for next month – with expert onboard lecturer Professor Kris Helgen, Chief Scientist and Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute – and another sailing has recently been confirmed for 1-8 February 2022, plus more through 2022 and 2023.
Building to its already extensive list of guest activities (snorkelling, diving, hiking, village tours, school visits, underwater caves, etc) the company has introduced Ocean Swimming as a new activity. Haworth-West says ocean swimming has become a favourite activity of many during the pandemic. Those keen, can done their togs for either a 1 or 2km swim in the morning when waters are calmer, supported by crew in tenders. Haworth West insists the waters are safe.
“Fiji’s Reef sharks are well fed,” she quipped.
Concluding, Haworth West told LATTE, “Whether it’s day cruises or overnight, they all fit into the desires of the modern traveller because it’s all about experience. It’s all about leave feeling different. It’s about having an active holiday, but also having the chance to relax, cultural immersion, beautiful scenery, off the beaten path and remote destinations.”
Reef Endeavour returns to Fiji this weekend having just delivered seafarers home to Kiribati after being stranded in Fiji for a year. Her first voyage for international visitors since the pandemic is scheduled for 24 December.