Local sales of Silversea Cruises' new Galapagos Island product are lagging behind the rest of the world as Australians shy away from the cruise line's week-long itineraries in the wildlife haven.
The slow rate of bookings has surprised senior executives who have become accustomed to success in Australia, both for the Silver Explorer expedition vessel and Silversea's five mainstream ships.
Silversea released its debut Galapagos season last November, with two seven-night itineraries set to begin in late September on the 99-passenger Silver Galapagos.
While global sales are in line with expectations, expedition cruise director Conrad Combrink told Travel Today that Australian sales were disappointing and "trailing behind the rest of the world".
He attributed the performance to a belief in Australia that a seven-night cruise in the Galapagos is too long.
"Australians have traditionally been sold a Galapagos itinerary of three or four nights and have a perception that seven nights is too long," he said. "We need to get the message across that three or four nights is just not long enough. We studied different products and itineraries and concluded that you will not get the full experience of the Galapagos Islands in a cruise of that length. We feel a week is a perfect length of time."
Combrink predicted that while Australians sales are disappointing, they will pick up.
"I don't think it's a lasting effect," he said. "Australia is our second largest market for the Silver Explorer. On our Polar expeditions, 25% of the passengers are Australians. Four years ago that would have been 5%, so they like to travel, are adventurous and like the Silversea product."
There is no reason why Australia could not become the number one market for its expedition product over time, Combrink added.
Silversea's Galapagos vessel, which is still operating as the Galapagos Explorer II, will enter dry dock for a month later this year ahead of the September launch.
It will feature 53 suites, 50% of which will have private verandas. Combrink claimed there was no luxury expedition operator in the Galapagos, a gap in the market that will be filled by the Silver Galapagos.
He said a critical task ahead of the first season will be to train existing staff to Silversea standards. Virtually all crew will be retained from the Galapagos Explorer II and are Ecuadorian or from the Galapagos Islands.
"We are not underestimating that challenge [of training staff]," Combrink said.
Silversea will have owned the vessel – and its parent company – for 18 months before the inaugural voyage on September 28, a timeframe which has allowed the company to comprehensively explore and design the product, refurbish the ship and train crew.
"We feel that is the right amount of time," Combrink said.
Crew will spend time on Silversea's other ships to gain first-hand experience of service levels, Combrink said.
It will be essential for the Silver Galapagos to mirror the same levels of product and service as its sister ships, he added.