‘Between 2022 and 2023, we increased the capacity of our marine-focused tours by 286% to meet rising demand,’ explained Currie. ‘As we move into 2024, we have not seen any signs of this appetite slowing, which is why we have introduced three new expedition cruise tours for next year alone.’
Rise of experiential cruising
The director has seen a change in consumer behaviour. He said, ‘The rising popularity of expedition cruising, with its promise of awe-inspiring, off-the-beaten-track experiences, is unsurprising considering consumers’ increasing desire in recent years for experiential, mind-nourishing, and unique travel.’
Where the majority of expedition ships were formerly Russian owned ex ice breakers, which have now been returned, expedition companies were forced to look at other sources to obtain their ships, according to Currie. In many cases, these companies have instead opted for building their own and have been able to incorporate new features. One trend that New Scientist Discovery Tours has witnessed is a surge in the number of small ships being introduced, with many featuring an X-BOW hull design. Smaller ships make access to smaller bays and ports even easier, so passengers can get closer to wildlife and more time can be spent on land at the various stop off points, as opposed to disembarking and boarding the ship.
‘30 new ships have been brought onto the polar cruising market in the last five years and significant advances in technology have been made, such as changes to the X-BOW hull design and introduction of digital anchoring, allowing ships to visit more fragile, protected marine environments by reducing the risk of environmental impact,’ Currie observed.
Advances in technology
Digital anchoring technology combines the use of a GPS to keep the position stable with the light use of thrusters to keep the ship in place to avoid damaging the seabed.
The design of the X-BOW hull has a vast number of environmental benefits, primarily its ability to cut through the waves in a smoother fashion, in turn consuming less fuel and producing fewer emissions. In terms of the onboard experience, the design reduces the impact and slamming loads, making for gentler sailing. Examples of this X-BOW hull design can be seen on Greg Mortimer, operating New Scientist Discovery Tours’ ‘Science of the Arctic’ cruise in Svalbard, Norway, and Sylvia Earle, the base for New Scientist's 'The science of the deep’ Antarctic cruise.
In addition to these advancements in operational technologies, a number of new expedition ships now have on board citizen science programmes and dedicated labs where researchers are collecting and analysing data relating to the natural world. Gathering and sharing this data is proving an effective way to engage and educate passengers on pressing environmental issues.
Looking to the future, New Scientist Discovery Tours expects there to be an increase in submersible craft, either via remote control systems or those that can take passengers into the sea.
In some scenarios, for example, if someone is looking to explore the fumaroles in Northern Iceland, they would need to be an experienced diver in order to swim 20 mtr deep. With the introduction of remote-control submersible craft, individuals will be able to witness this natural phenomenon whilst remaining just above it, within the safety of the vessel.
Currently in Antarctica, permits are required which restrict the number of visitors allowed at a landing site at one given time, and therefore limit the environmental impact of expedition cruising. There are talks of this being rolled out to the Arctic region in the next few years. This will lessen the environmental impacts in the region, but will mean that larger ships won’t be able to stop at certain key locations.
New tours for 2024
Among New Scientist’s new tours for next year is a 15-day journey, following in James Weddell and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s wake in Antarctica. Now available to book, highlights include the chance to see humpback whales, Weddell seals, and Adelie penguins, guided hikes exploring pristine beaches and wilderness, as well as boat safaris to investigate coves, icebergs and more wildlife. Insights will be provided by experts in the field, with talk topics including how microbes rule Antarctica and how to film in the White Continent’s unique conditions. There will be exclusive talks, commentary, and insights from Alison George, a features editor at New Scientist who has overwintered in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey. In addition, there will be talks and activity support involving Saunders Carmichael-Brown, a producer/presenter who was on the Endurance 22 Antarctic Expedition that found Sir Ernest Shackleton's shipwreck.
Prices start from £11,399pp, departing March 23, 2024, which includes hotel accommodation for two days, and 12 days aboard Sylvia Earle on a full-board basis. It also includes all Zodiac cruising, landing activities, a coastal catamaran cruise from Ushuaia and half day tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park, as well as internal transfers.
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