Aqua Expeditions is targeting a larger stake of business from the Australian luxury cruise segment, with Founder and CEO Francesco Galli Zugaro saying he believes Aussies could be his brand’s third largest revenue stream.
In Sydney this week from his headquarters in Singapore, and for the first time since the COVID pandemic, Galli Zugaro is meeting with key industry partners and to share his knowledge firsthand with a newly appointed Australian-based sales manager.
Founded 16 years ago, Aqua Expeditions currently operates a fleet of five boutique-sized, high-end vessels operating in the Amazon, Mekong, Indonesia and Galapagos, catering for just 16 to a maximum of 40 guests. With each new ship comes a new destination, the latest of which being Aqua Mare – his first super yacht – in Ecuador’s fabled archipelago, which debuted last summer.
Galli Zugaro told LATTE he expanded into coastal cruising three years ago with the introduction of Aqua Blu in Indonesia in an effort to step away from being categorised as a river cruise operator.
“We doubled down during COVID and put two ships in the water. It’s a sign of our confirmation and commitment to the industry,” he said.
“Our sector and our niche is definitely the right one post-COVID. Outdoors, remote, small groups, local flags so you won’t get stuck on a ship – all common denominators for us.”
He said the demographic on each of Aqua Expeditions’ ships are identical, comprised of citizens from the US, Canada, UK, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Mexico, Brazil and Russia.
Galli Zugaro expects his Mekong and Bali/Indonesian cruise programs will resonate well with new-to-brand, and new-to-cruise, guests from Australia, due to the proximity.
“None of our guests are usually mainstream cruising clients.”
“Our guests are affluent explorers and probably haven’t been on anything bigger than our ships, and most of them are first-timers to small ship expeditions because our guest experience is more in line with African safaris, with Antarctica, with tiger camps in India.
“I think it makes it very exciting for someone to start with us. For Australians, they can start with a short-haul flight to Bali, be on Aqua Blu on a Saturday, and be swimming with whale sharks by Sunday morning. That’s quite rare.”
Similarly in Southeast Asia, Galli Zugaro says Aqua Mekong offers something unique for Australians.
“Whilst there are other ships on the Mekong there’s nothing like what we have. We’re the same size as most of the ships there but with half the number of guests. We’re the only one with a fleet of private tenders. No one has private speed boats, which makes our itineraries totally different than other ships because they have to stop and provide shore services, meaning they have to stop at the same exact port. We have bikes and speed boats for all our guests so that people can do leisure biking twice a day.”
He said Aqua Expeditions attracts a younger audience than the typical cruise clientele.
“All our ships are family orientated – we take kids from 5 years and up. Our trips are active and we’re attracting 40-45-year-olds and honeymooners on all our ships.
“There’s this connotation that river cruising was put into this European river cruise segment, which we are not. Ours are much more upscale, much more active, much more foodie focused.”
The Italian-born cruise operator said Australia “could easily” represent 15% of revenue in the next year. If achieved, Australia would be Aqua Expeditions’ third biggest market, moving up from its current position of around 10th, and generating about 5% of sales.
“The desire for long-haul travel is just embedded in your veins. Both long-haul South America with your air access improving between LATAM, Qantas and Air New Zealand, and obviously Southeast Asia is your backdoor – it’s not your big long-haul holiday but a quick getaway.”
On fleet growth, Galli Zugaro said he was “definitely” introduced in future superyachts, building on the success of Aqua Mare. And while the CEO wouldn’t disclose the specific future destinations for the brand, he did reveal to LATTE that he’s evaluated Africa, India, Patagonia, Alaska, Baha (in Mexico – which he incidentally said he is heading to in coming weeks) and even the Kimberley, however the seasonality, cabotage and foreign ownership laws made the Western Australian coastline “quite complicated”.
“If I did the Kimberley – which definitely appeals to me, especially when know that the ships that are here are mostly filled with Australians, means that the foreign market isn’t being tapped into yet – we’re not going to move the market much if I bring a ship with 20 cabins. We’re not going to take a big chunk of anyone’s market share.”
Quizzed if Aqua Blu could reposition to the Kimberley from Indonesia, he said it already sells out year-round in its current location “so there would be no need for me to relocate here”.
Galli Zugaro did however confirm exclusively to LATTE that fleet expansion is very much on the cards, and that he expected to reveal more by mid-July 2023.
Additionally this week, Aqua Expeditions has also welcomed a new sale representative for Australia and New Zealand. Based in Sydney, Benjamin Garcia will focus on trade relationships, responsible for product training, famil trips, strategic partnerships and commercial strategies in the region.
Garcia has worked in sales and product management for Valle Nevado Ski Resort, Explora Lodges and LATAM. He also established his own venture, Nomade Unique Experiences, which provides marketing services for travel companies in Asia Pacific.
As part of this effort to help Aqua grow in Australia and New Zealand, Garcia will be supported by two new members in Aqua Expeditions’ in-house reservations team who will look after inquiries and bookings from the region. Garcia can be contacted on email at firstname.lastname@example.org.