In hindsight, the COVID pandemic certainly wasn’t an ideal time for a new cruise brand to launch, but that didn’t hold back the minds behind the rebirth of Swan Hellenic.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, the expedition cruise segment was flourishing with new vessels launching and many others in the pipeline from the likes of Crystal, Seabourn, Viking, Albatros Expeditions and Aurora Expeditions.
In July 2020, Swan Hellenic 2.0 was revealed. Under new owners, their mission was to appeal to guests seeking a cultural immersion on an expedition cruise – a market yet to betapped.
Speaking exclusively with LATTE, Alfredo Spadon, SVP Global Sales and Marketing at Swan Hellenic admits “you can imagine that the moment was the worst moment in life for a company to start”.
“It was a very difficult period. Nobody knew what was going to happen,” he explained.
“We were building the ships at a time when the market was not there.
“Even worse, the market was below ground zero because agencies were cancelling cruises, cruise companies were putting their ships on drydock. It was a terrible, terrible time,” Spadon said.
“It was for us, as a startup with a new company, starting from scratch, quite a tough moment.”
“When we started we didn’t have any distribution, we didn’t have any marketing materials, didn’t have any pricing structure, we didn’t have any real picture of the ship because we were working with renderings,” he said.
Swan Hellenic’s first ship, SH Minerva, was planned to launch in November 2021. Supply change constraints resulted in delays, albeit minimal, at the Helsinki Shipyard where the vessel was being constructed. The ship entered service in Antarctica in late December instead.
“We operated six rotations of Antarctica cruises, coupled with PCR and Antigen test requirements,” he said, adding the White Continent was “not an easy destination” to commence operation with.
“With a completely new ship, completely new crew, completely new staff – I have to say chapeau to the whole team because they did a great job. We are proud of the whole team for what they have achieved.”
“No cancellations and very limited number of guests with COVID – you can count them on one hand – we had very, very strong protocols in place.”
Spandon said the American market generated a “very good contribution” to Swan Hellenic’s inaugural Antarctic season. And their feedback was very encouraging.
“The response from guests who were on board for the Antarctica season was absolutely positive, so we are happy. We are very happy. We are satisfied.”
Spadon told LATTE that to provide the US travel industry with a greater understanding of the Swan Hellenic positioning it will operate a famil aboard its second ship, SH Vega, from Halifax to Boston from 10 to 12 October, dedicated to trade partners and media. After which the vessel will sail empty from Boston to Buenos Aires for its inaugural Antarctica deployment, starting 7 November, operating in the region alongside SH Minerva.
“Although we started in a very difficult moment, we have worked 18 hours a day with passion to make it happen.”
While SH Minerva didn’t operate at 100% occupancy in her first season in Antarctica, Spadon remains confident of the future ahead for Swan Hellenic.
“At the end of the day, the aim is to sail with full ships, but if we look at the load factors, we have been absolutely satisfied,” Spadon commented.
“We did not touch the 100%, so it can go up, but looking at it and the situation that we faced at the beginning of a season in Antarctica, with a completely new organisation, iI have to say that we did a fantastic job.”
No choppers or submersibles, by choice
Spadon said Swan Hellenic’s focus on the environment was a key priority. He said experiences such as helicopters and submarines offered to guests didn’t suit the brand and its positioning.
“Nowadays it is extremely important to bring in a green product on the market. We go to amazing destinations, protected areas, where we need to maximimise respect for what you’re going to see.
“Personally, I think that if you go into these areas with equipment that is respecting the area, it is fantastic.
“Product such as a helicopter could create noise, so we have decided as a company we are not going to have a helicopter, and not going to have a submarine. Instead, we have zodiacs and we have kayaks,” Spadon said.
Swan Hellenic is currently offering up to 30% off full fares under its ‘Early Swan’ booking promotion for departures in 2023, available from now until 30 December 2o22.