A true pioneer in sustainability and expedition cruising, Hurtigruten has remained engaged and supportive of the travel trade during the pandemic, showcasing the genuine spirit of #TogetherinTravel. But how have they been coping with ongojgn restrictions and what opportunities are thye seeing moving forwards? We caught up with Marie Swanson, who has recently stepped into the role of APAC Marketing Manager to find out.
Prior to joining the team at Hurtigruten, Marie spent 14 years at Intrepid Travel working in various roles across sales and marketing, with the last 4 years spent as Head of Brand AU/NZ leading the brand marketing team across campaigns, design, partnerships, and content.
Last month, Marie moved into the role of APAC Marketing Manager at Hurtigruten and joins an established team showcasing the brand to a growing market out of Australia, New Zealand and China.
As an intrepid explorer herself, Marie has always been one to say ‘yes’ to adventures and in doing so, has found herself in some pretty amazing situations.
She’s danced the streets of Rio, hiked the tallest mountain in South East Asia, and been chased by buffalo in the Ngorongoro Crater. As soon as borders open (and with the hope the seasons align) she’ll be headed to the Arctic to take in the Northern Lights with Hurtigruten.
We caught up with Marie to find out how she’s settling in at Hurtigruten, how the company is navigating the eye of the storm, and what opportunities she thinks could arise over the next year and beyond.
How are you settling into your new role Marie?
I’m a month in now and loving life at Hurtigruten.
Being a global business, with sales and operations teams scattered around the globe, it has been so great to see the teams work so closely and collaboratively together.
Hurtigruten has such a diverse, optimistic, and passionate group of people who are genuinely excited to share their expertise in the business and the regions they explore. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of it.
How’s everything going at Hurtigruten? How are forward bookings looking from an Australian/NZ perspective?
We have been fortunate, over this past 18 months, that our rebookings onto future voyages have been consistently strong.
And while recent lockdowns in Melbourne and Sydney certainly impacted consumer confidence, we are seeing some solid new bookings come through for 2022 and beyond, particularly for Expeditions in Antarctica and Norway.
Overall as a business, Hurtigruten numbers are strong. Booking behaviour is very different in North America and Europe and we are currently 40% up on bookings for the future year versus the same time in 2019 (pre-COVID).
After the struggles of the past year, people are really keen to start exploring again – particularly for those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as whale watching in Antarctica or glimpsing the Northern Lights in the Arctic.
Now that operations have restarted in the Northern Hemisphere, how has Hurtigruten adapted to the new environment?
It is an odd time in the industry, but also an exciting time, as travel resumes in the Northern Hemisphere and we start to see travellers enjoying the coast of Norway again.
Of course, we have new safety protocols and policies, and we will continue to adapt as required but all our staff and crew were so excited to hit the seas again.
The Norway Coastal Express is in operation on all 7 ships and Expeditions in Antarctica are at their final stages with an aim to operate the 21 /22 season.
What I find most exciting is that Hurtigruten Expeditions has used this time to launch voyages in a completely new region – the Galapagos.
The Santa Cruz II is currently being refurbished and will start sailing in January 2022, offering guests the chance to really experience the beauty of the Galapagos, under the Hurtigruten model that will allow more to participate, and learn about the unique ecosystem through the Citizen Science program onboard.
Are there changing consumer trends, desires needs you are seeing for post-pandemic travel?
There has been a lot in the media around travel remerging more sustainably, and I 100% agree.
There is an overwhelming desire in people to explore new, untouched places, and to do so in a sustainable way. Hurtigruten has been ingrained in this space for years, and as people start planning their next holiday they’ll be researching and actively looking for the operators driving this change.
What’s the biggest challenge at the moment do you think?
Uncertainty. People are fatigued. We all want a clear roadmap on vaccine rollout and border openings.
What’s about the biggest opportunity?
Finding diversity in destination and product offering. People will be seeking out fresh experiences and likely steer clear of overcrowded cities and tourist hot spots.
I’m really excited about getting that sense of exploration back once this is all over. Feeling that freedom to experience new destinations, meet new people onboard the ship, take in dramatic backdrops and spot rare and precious wildlife.
There is such a pent-up desire to travel again and as cliché, as it sounds, nothing will beat the moment our guests take in the sights and smells of a new country and landscape again.
What message would you like to share with the travel trade right now?
We are all a bit battered and broken, but still here.
Well done for sticking it out. Keep motivated as we have seen the success in our offshore source markets and the bounce back is rapid.
For your more resilient travellers – get them booked in now. With most markets active again we are concerned many Australians may, quite literally, miss the boat on future sailings.
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