Amid the explosion in expedition cruise product, Lindblad Expeditions remains a leader in the sector, which it helped establish when Lars-Eric Lindblad took the first tourists by ship to Antarctica in 1966. His son, company CEO Sven Lindblad, spoke with news editor Johanna Jainchill about designing the brand's first newbuilds and the increasingly crowded expedition cruise space.
Q: How do these ships that you designed from scratch differ from your other ships?
A: For the Quest, the Venture and the Endurance, a bunch of us got together: expedition leaders, captains, people on the hotel side and others who understand and know the company and what our aspirations are and what we want to do. They are not massively different -- we are not building a rock-climbing wall -- but it's really the confluence of expedition excellence, getting people on and off the boats fast and making sure we have enough landing craft, kayaks and such, with more contemporary comforts and the right accommodation for normal ship service but also for the expedition team and leaders and underwater specialists, chroniclers, etc. And also building in some technology, like using less fuel.
Q: With so many new expedition ships now, is hardware a bigger consideration than it used to be?
A: It puts a certain amount of pressure on the hardware side of things. If you're going to build a new ship, it's going to be more thoughtful holistically because you are starting from scratch. But we absolutely are not viewing hardware as the primary foot forward. None of this has changed our view on how we travel in the world. It simply enhances some of the abilities and some of the comforts. On our new ship, the Endurance, we put in a yoga studio. Do we need one? Not necessarily, but we recognize that more and more people like to stretch in the morning and do that kind of thing, so we said, let's adapt. If people enjoy it, let's give it to them, but without in any way, shape or form affecting the essence of what we're there to do. We've had people say, 'Now that you are building new ships are you changing your stripes?' Absolutely not. If we recognize the fact that people want something -- for example, on the Endurance there are more dining options because we realize that people like that -- why not give it to them?
Q: What about the expedition bells and whistles, like submarines and helicopters?
A: We went through an exhaustive process looking at submarines, because I really wanted one. And we looked at helicopters. Our analyses really wound up where the cost-benefit to the experience did not compute. Every single thing like this that you add to an expedition is a big logistical decision, and it is really complex.
Q: Despite being a pioneer, is it harder to compete with this explosion in expedition product?
A: We're mesmerized by the fact that so many people are doing this. Certainly there's competition as a consequence, but at the same time, there's a broadening of the category and more noise around the idea of expedition and experiential travel. I think people do a lot of research, and our brand stands up very well for those who do research in terms of our longevity, the connection with National Geographic, the details that relate to an ability to provide people with an authentic expedition.
Q: Do you think these newcomers might have trouble providing that expedition experience?
A: There are four key things you need to conduct a meaningful expedition: deep knowledge of geography; the right teams -- captains, navigation officers, the hotel department, the expedition teams -- all working in synchrony; the right hardware for what you are trying to accomplish, more critical in the most strenuous environments; and really understanding the aspirations of who you're attracting, which is generally a very sophisticated audience. It's a four-legged stool. I know for a fact there are people who have woken up and done the numbers and said, 'This is a good business, let's do this.' There is a lot of money out there looking for places to go, and this is exotic and interesting. Absolutely there are some people who are not nearly as equipped as they should be to engage in this.