Lindblad prepares to tackle local market

Lindblad prepares to tackle local market
By admin

Australia could generate sales of up to US$50 million for Lindblad Expeditions within three years as the New York-based operation prepares to bring the Orion into its fleet.

Founder and president Sven Lindblad said he saw “huge potential” in the local market with its marketing efforts in Australia set to outstrip the rest of the world combined, outside of the US.

Speaking to Travel Today at Orion’s North Sydney office, Lindblad said the ship should no longer be seen in isolation by the Australian market but part of Lindblad Exhibitions 10-ship fleet offering voyages across the globe.

Lindblad’s nine other vessels, four of which are seasonal charters, will be offered to Orion’s 3000 past passengers, and the wider Australian market, while Orion's new-look itineraries will be sold to Lindblad’s American customer base.

“I see huge potential in Australia. I see potential to bring Americans to this part of the world and I see potential to take people from here to other parts of the world,” he said. “Australians and Americans have a lot in common and I see no reason on earth why we shouldn’t be able to develop something of significance here.”

Americans make up 90% of Lindblad’s 18,000 annual passengers but once its marketing and distribution strategy has been bedded down in Australia – plans are currently being worked through – it will ensure a greater mix of American and Australians on board its vessels, he said.

Lindblad admitted it has previously “not made a big effort” in Australia but still managed to generate approximately US$3m worth of sales last year.

That should increase to US$25m to US$30m in two to three years which, combined with Orion’s Australia-based revenue, should swell overall sales to between US$40m and US$50m.

Lindblad Exhibitions New York-based head of sales Jacinta McEvoy, currently in Australia, will remain here “for as long as it takes for us to understand and how to approach this market”, Lindblad said.

“We have to understand the retail networks, the wholesalers, the public,” he said. “We have to understand how the Internet works down here, how people use it. We just need to understand the landscape. It’s all a discovery for us.”

The Orion, which will renamed National Geographic Orion from March next year to bring it in line with five other Lindblad-operated National Geographic branded ships, will be equipped with more expedition-style features. They include an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV), scuba-diving equipment and 24 ocean-going kayaks.

Staff will be doubled to 12 to include naturalists, historians, a dive master, expedition leaders and National Geographic photographers.

Capacity meanwhile we be reduced from 106 to 102 to cater for single travellers.

Lindblad acknowledged that the shift to a more genuine expedition-style experience may ostracise some of Orion’s 3000 past passengers who are more used to a softer product.

But he stressed it was taking nothing away from what has made the Orion popular with Australians, just adding a new product dimension.

“I am sure we will ostracise some past passengers but none of what people love about the Orion is being sacrificed,” Lindblad insisted. “We are not going to start giving them biscuits for lunch and tinned beans for dinner in order to provide more expeditions and because we have divers on board.

“If we were to ostracise people because we were not respectful of what they value then I would feel bad but if we ostracise them because we are becoming more interesting, well….”

He added that activities on its voyages appeal to a cross section of travellers, and do not cater purely for hardcore expedition seekers.

“We are very orientated to providing as many options as possible,” he said. “So you can hike or just do a short walk. Another group may be honing their photographic skills while others may be snorkeling, diving or kayaking.”

Orion’s inaugural voyage under its new identity next March will go from Auckland to Cairns via Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea before heading to Darwin and a series of Kimberley voyages.

It will then cross the Pacific for the first time as far as Easter Island before embarking on an Antarctic season from South America. Orion has previously operated its Antarctic cruises from Australia.

Lindblad said approaching Antarctic from South America and taking in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia is “more interesting and diverse”. The alternative route from Australia is also heavily dependent on the weather while Commonwealth Bay, a regular stop off, is effectively out of bounds because of the presence of a 65km iceberg.

“No one is going to get into Commonwealth Bay for years to come unless you are a heavy duty ice breaker,” Lindblad said.

Meanwhile, Orion Expedition Cruises chief operating officer Joel Katz, said the number of early bookings of National Geographic Orion's inaugural voyages have been "unprecedented".

"We expect them to sell out soon," he said.

Lindblad added: "We have had huge interest already for Orion from the US. I am convinced the ship will be full, all of the time."

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