Asia-Pacific is becoming a hot market for luxury expedition operators, with bookings surging since the reopening of borders and preference soaring for longer and more adventurous trips
Moving away from material purchases during the long years of Covid restrictions, affluent consumers are now prioritising spend on rare experiences, a trend that is rewarding operators of specialised expeditions to corners of the world.
Illustrating the transformation of demand among the truly well-travelled, Adam Radwanksi, managing director, Asia-Pacific for Silversea Cruises, said: “In the past, when you had a lot of money, you would escape the world by taking off in a private jet and go to a private island. You would pay money to build a wall between you and the world.
“The new luxury definition calls for immersion into authenticity, which could be a visit to an obscure, fifth generation-run smoked salmon stall deep in Niigata (Japan) or eating sardines out of a can on a Portuguese street like the locals. These are genuine experiences shared with regular folks going about their day-to-day life, but they are also a form of luxury because they are not easily known to foreigners.”
With Silversea’s clientele being those who have done it all, the quest for even more enriching and unusual experiences is intensifying – leading to a surge in demand and bookings for expedition cruises.
The ultra-luxury cruise line now has five expedition ships sailing exciting parts of the world. Expeditions to Arctic, Antarctica, and the Galapagos, in particular, are enjoying a surge in bookings from the Asian markets, shared Radwanski.
To keep expedition offerings always novel for guests, especially the “large proportion of repeat travellers” within Silversea’s “loyal community of Venetian Society members”, the cruise line invests in geographic scouting missions to identify new landing sites in remote regions like Antarctica, the South Pacific and the Arabian Peninsula. A recent 15-person Antarctica scouting and research mission led to the discovery of 42 new landing sites on uncharted land.
“As Antarctica landings are dependent on conditions, the more landing sites, the better the on-land experience for guests on Silver Endeavour, Silver Cloud and Silver Wind. This ensures that Silversea remains a cutting-edge polar leader,” stated Radwanski.
Expedition guests can also unlock new experiences through bespoke events. For example, on the Pole to Pole Grand Voyage, travellers were immersed, via events, in Oman’s geology, Cape Town’s Malay culture, Portugal’s Sintra, Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains, and the folklore and traditions of Greenland.
For polar adventure specialist, Quark Expeditions, bookings out of Asia-Pacific has been rising month on month for the past year, riding on improving airline capacity and traveller confidence in farther destinations.
Robert Halfpenny, regional sales director APAC & Japan, Quark Expeditions told TTG Asia that sales are now exceeding forecasted stretch targets, particularly over the last two quarters, and the pace “does not look like it will subside for the foreseeable future”.
While North America, Europe and Australia have been Quark’s core markets over the past 30 years, Asia is now seen as a growth star.
Halfpenny said: “Asia is very much part of Quark’s short to medium term development plan. Prior to Covid, China was a substantial sales territory for Quark, particularly for charters, and that has returned over the past six months post the reopening of its borders. We anticipate exceeding our pre-Covid sales over the next few years out of China.
“Singapore, India and Japan are also performing very well and we have just started investing into these markets this past year. We are already seeing exceptional sales returns with that investment since the beginning of this calendar year (2023). These three markets, as well as Malaysia and Thailand, will be regions that we will be ramping up our investment for the next few years.”
He observes a preference for longer and more premium polar expeditions like South Georgia 15-plus-day departures in Antarctica, in addition to the traditional Antarctica Peninsula which are nine- to 12-day adventures. Lesser-known destinations in the Arctic, like Greenland and the North West Passage, are also gaining favour.
“We are assuming this is due to the pent-up demand that occurred during the lockdowns and an appreciation for mystical destinations (when travel was once again possible),” opined Halfpenny.
Growing interest in adventures has led White Desert, an agency established by record-breaking polar explorer Patrick Woodhead and his wife in 2005 to bring travellers into the belly of Antarctica, to launch a 21-day journey that will take no more than 50 guests to 10 iconic destinations across seven continents, starting January 12, 2025.
Named 7 Continent Adventure, the tour will start in Mexico City and cover Colombia, Easter Island, Fiji, Borneo, India, Turkey, Namibia, and South Africa, before concluding with White Desert’s signature trip – into Antarctica. Guests will travel around the world in a unique Boeing 757-200 set up in a private configuration with 50 lie-flat seats.
While expeditions tend to fall under the luxury travel category due to their hefty price tags, White Desert CMO Mindy Roberts remarked that clients are not always high-net-worth individuals. “We absolutely do have guests that have planned these bucket list trips for years and joined our team for the adventure of a lifetime,” she said.