Karryon chats with Aurora Expeditions’ new CEO Monique Ponfoort, about Sylvia Earle, and her excitement, optimism, and insights as expedition travel sails into 2021 and beyond.
This month marks the beginning of an exciting chapter for Aurora Expeditions, as the Australian-owned company officially welcomes Monique Ponfoort as its new CEO.
With a career spanning more than 25 years in the travel and cruise industry, Monique brings a wealth of experience and expertise to Aurora Expeditions at a time when the company is expanding.
With a brand new, purpose-built small expedition ship Sylvia Earle scheduled to sail on her maiden voyage in November 2021 – a sister ship to the award-winning Greg Mortimer – and an array of forward-thinking Aurora Expeditions initiatives on the horizon, Monique is both optimistic and excited for the future of expedition travel.
Tell us what makes you so excited about your new ship, the Sylvia Earle, and how it honours Dr. Sylvia Earle.
I’m both humbled and proud to be leading the outstanding team at Aurora Expeditions at such an incredibly exciting time.
Our brand new, purpose-built expedition ship, the Sylvia Earle, is on schedule for delivery in October 2021 and is named after the renowned marine biologist, oceanographer, explorer and conservationist, Dr Sylvia Earle.
Our ships are designed to connect our expeditioners with the world’s most unique environments, and we are proud to be partnering with Sylvia to continue our goal of creating lifelong ambassadors for the wild and remote places we visit.
In keeping with Sylvia’s own vision and achievements, the Sylvia Earle will have a large focus on marine education and conservation, offering an incredible opportunity for people to learn about these extraordinary and biodiverse marine habitats in situ and, as a result, become ambassadors for protecting them.
Will Sylvia Earle feature in any of the onboard programs (in-person or otherwise) once the ship launches?
We’re working closely with Sylvia on our plans for the ship and we have consulted with her and her team in the development of our onboard Citizen Science Centre.
Her acclaimed Mission Blue TV series will be screened in all rooms, and we’ve named the Science Centre after her. We’re also hoping to welcome Sylvia on board a voyage at some point to one of her ‘Hope Spots’. Stay tuned, there will be more to come!
Expedition cruising is forecast to boom post-COVID 19. How is Aurora Expeditions placed to take advantage of this opportunity?
I remain highly optimistic about the future of cruising and have already observed a strong desire from our guests who want to reconnect through small-ship expeditions on future voyages.
This unprecedented halt to travel has provided us with the time to listen carefully to our clients, to review our product offering and create even more adventurous and intrepid experiences for our expeditioners.
Resilience is ingrained in the spirit of expedition travel and our steadfast guests are a true testament to that. As with any expedition, nature will guide us to better things.
I’m confident the global cruise industry will emerge from this crisis, stronger, healthier and more united than ever.
What makes Aurora Expeditions different to your competitors and what do your clients enjoy most when they travel with you?
With one of the smallest ships in expedition travel, we can be nimble and responsive on voyages.
Aurora Expeditions prides itself on small-group shore excursions with expert guides that are some of the best in the business, each driven by a passion for new discoveries as well as an innate spirit of adventure and camaraderie.
This sense of freedom and flexibility, along with our relaxed onboard atmosphere, make for truly immersive and life-enriching experiences. Exploration, curiosity, discovery and knowledge are all part of our DNA.
We are passionate about exploring the world and helping to protect and preserve it for future generations.
What are some of the challenges that expedition cruising in general faces post-COVID 19?
Our number one priority remains firmly on our safe and healthy return to service for our passengers, crew and the people and places we visit. Going forward, all our passengers will be tested for COVID-19 before leaving home, prior to embarkation, and again once onboard.
We are all fully focused on the wellbeing of our expeditioners and are working closely with leading industry and government agencies to develop, adapt, and implement stringent new health and safety protocols.
Are you seeing demand and bookings currently for 2021/22? Are people bringing their bucket lists forward?
Yes, we have witnessed our highest ever pre-registration numbers for our 2022 Global & Arctic program featuring true bucket-list destinations such as Alaska, the Russian Far East, Raja Ampat, West Papua, the North West Passage and Baja California.
While a lot of things in the world may feel quite uncertain at the moment, one thing I am sure of is that the desire to travel is strong and the more remote and nature-based the trip, the better.
Our customers are telling us they want to embark on once-a-year voyages to remarkable places rather than do several shorter holidays. I also think people really want to reconnect with the natural world after the many months of lockdowns and travel restrictions.
How important is the trade for Aurora Expeditions?
It’s paramount. We value our trade partners immensely and work very closely with them.
We have recently launched our Deposit Protection Scheme in the form of an escrow account to ensure our trade partners and passengers have confidence when booking future voyages with us.
I’m also delighted that we have joined CLIA’s commission protection program.
Now more than ever, we must support each other in the industry and if we hold firm, all of us working together, we can ride out the storm and sail into calmer waters.
What are you personally looking forward to now you’re at the helm of Aurora Expeditions?
Firstly, meeting our ever-growing family of expeditioners who are the lifeblood of the company. I’m also truly humbled to have the opportunity to lead such a passionate and dynamic team that strive constantly to deliver the best service, product and experiences to our customers.
And like many others in expedition travel, I can’t wait for international borders to re-open so we can all return to what we love doing, which is taking our guests to explore the most unique, remote and biodiverse corners of the planet with the greatest of respect.
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