Aurora Expeditions is making “strong inroads” in the US expedition cruise market as part of the Australian-owned and operated adventure company’s business globalisation, says Michael Heath, CEO.
Speaking with LATTE at Virtuoso Travel Week, Heath said the 32-year-old business is in the process of a transformation from an “Australian-oriented focused” operator to a “global organisation”.
“We’re building the brand here as we don’t have the same recognition we have in Australia and New Zealand, but it’s really interesting. Year over year, more agents are travelling, more agents are selling and more agents are aware of our brand – we’re getting really good support here,” he said.
“This source market, North America, is very important to us. We’re starting to make really good inroads here, investing in a team of people here. Also, Europe is a strong marketplace, but certainly North America is a big focus for us,” Heath said.
He said that while Aurora Expeditions has had an established presence in North America for some time, “we’re really leaning into North America right now.”
“Asia Pacific is still very important and we have a solid business in Europe as well, but being the biggest source market, it’s a region we are focused on too,” he said of North America.
Hayley Peacock-Gower, Chief Marketing Officer, Aurora Expeditions said the brand had witnessed growth in the market after initially aligning with Virtuoso on an Asia-Pacific regional level before broadening the agreement to a global partnership.
“We’re really seeing the growth in our partnership with Virtuoso in terms of numbers and recognition. It’s really quite exciting and they are loving the product. Once they come onboard, they really love that Australian way – the relaxed atmosphere and shared experience, they meet wonderful people, so we’ve had tremendous feedback,” Peacock-Gower told LATTE.
Heath said business from the region was predominantly for Aurora’s Antarctic program but noted the Arctic was also gaining more traction by breaking down the destinations, such as Svalbard, Greenland and the Northwest Passage.
“We’re starting to see Americans and Canadians becoming increasingly interested in the Northwest Passage and Greenland as well, so we’re starting to adjust our schedule and itineraries to accommodate the market, with shorter itineraries because they typically have less time to travel compared to Australians,” he said.
On that, Heath said: “We’re not reinventing, but adjusting to cater for the market, however our biggest base remains Asia Pacific in terms of market”.
Peacock-Gower noted that Aurora Expeditions’ key demographic was skewing a little bit younger, at 45-plus, due to the active nature of the voyages. But she noted that there are still participants in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s.
“It’s really a mindset. A really active adventure traveller who wants to experience amazing destinations and get immersed in the natural environment, go hiking, go snorkeling, all those wonderful things that we do,” she said.
B Corp certification
Heath said Aurora Expeditions is also heavily focused on responsible travel and sustainability, which is the bedrock of the business that Greg Mortimer founded.
“He’s very passionate about conservation, environmental – as is Dr Sylvia Earle, another Ambassador of Aurora Expeditions – so it outlines our current actions and our future ambitions.”
“And we’re very, very close to securing B Corp certification. We’re quietly confident and feel like we’re just months away. We’re coming to the end of the process,” Heath told LATTE.
The duo said they expected the certification to come through before the end of the 2023 calendar year.
Third ship, when and where
Meanwhile, Peacock-Gower also confirmed Aurora Expeditions’ third ship is under construction and will be delivered in the back half of 2025.
Heath said the fleet, which also consists of Greg Mortimer and Sylvia Earle (the latter delivered last December), will operate between Antarctica and the Arctic, and locations in between, offering both ‘expedition’ (polar) and ‘discovery’ (cultural-focused) voyages.
Quizzed by LATTE if a third ship could see local deployments from Australia or New Zealand to Antarctica in the future, Heath said Aurora Expeditions’ itinerary planners are in the process of evaluating options.
“We’re looking at where those three ships will be and how we can utilise them, but it’s exciting.”
Meanwhile, Aurora Expeditions’ Chairman, Neville Buch, has revealed the company will position the new vessel in Australia and the South Pacific during the Northern summer months. It is expected that would almost certainly include voyages of the Kimberley coastline.
Other warm water destinations are also in the pipeline for the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Middle East, US reports state.
That news follows Aurora Expeditions’ recent acquisition of the bankrupt Vantage Deluxe World Travel.
Buch said the new brand will be Vantage Explorations “and the intention is to formally announce this, as well as our plans, in the coming months.”
“Whilst there is an ongoing process following the finalisation of the brand acquisition, a new ‘Vantage style’ offering will be introduced across oceangoing, river and land product that will deliver exceptional travel experiences for our passengers.
“A team of customer service has been established to begin communication with customer creditors, and we hope that they will consider our offering in the spirit that it is intended.”