Boom in Antarctic cruising is 'crazy,' 'scary'
Plus: Luxury travel takes center stage in Cannes | Saudi Arabia accelerates play for luxury travelers
Saudi Arabia was among Middle Eastern countries with a strong presence at ILTM -- Jeri Clausing
CANNES, France - Greetings from the French Riviera, where Jeri is once again attending one of the world’s premier global travel trade events, the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM).
This year’s show brought together more than 3,600 travel advisors and suppliers from 77 countries to showcase and learn about thousands of properties new and old, large and small.
Among the hotels and destinations catching our eye: a soon-to-open intimate resort on St. Eustatius, a little-known island that is part of the Dutch Caribbean, better known for the “ABC islands” of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, and new resorts in lesser-crowded areas of the ever-popular Greek islands. Saudi Arabia, which is pumping billions into development of international tourism, also had a large presence.
We'll share more about some of those places that caught our attention in upcoming editions. So be sure to subscribe to Travel Essential now to have our insights delivered straight to your inbox! And in the spirit of the holiday season, we hope you’ll share our subscription link with your friends and family.
Also this week, we have an update on the growing number of ships -- and accidents -- in the Antarctic.
“It's crazy. There are just too darn many people going there. …It’s growing too fast. It's reached the point that there are so many vessels in the Drake Passage that they almost need a traffic cop. And there is no traffic cop.”
A Viking expedition ship in Antarctica -- Courtesy of Viking
Experts question safety of boom in Antarctic cruising
Last week we told you about two accidents in the opening weeks of the Antarctic cruise season that some fear portends a scary trend. First, a Zodiac ferrying passengers from a Quark Expeditions ship capsized, killing two. Then, a mini submarine from a Scenic ship was forced to abort a dive, only to be stuck below ice floes for nearly two hours.
Shortly after we filed that newsletter, we learned of a third accident, where a rogue wave hit Viking’s newest expedition ship, the Polaris, in the Drake Passage, knocking out glass panels. One passenger was killed and four others injured, according to the company.
That’s three accidents within about two weeks. So, of course, we decided to do some digging.
The International Association of Antarctic of Tour Operators (IAATO) told us serious accidents are rare. However, it did not respond to a request for copies of its annual reports, which supposedly detail all major incidents involving members.
It probably doesn’t matter. We reached James Barnes, chairman of the board of the Antarctic & Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), to find out more. He told TE that the accidents detailed in the IAATO summaries – “wherever they are” – only cover the most serious incidents reported by IAATO members. And there are many non-IAATO-member companies that operate everything from marathons to ski trips to private yachts.
Additionally, many of the more mainstream cruise companies venturing into the increasingly popular but hostile Antarctic environs have never operated expedition cruises before. And one veteran of expedition cruising there told us last week it's increasingly hard to find experienced crew members to take guests off the ships and into the icy wilds.
Bracing for more accidents
“It's crazy,” Barnes told us. “There are just too darn many people going there. …It’s growing too fast. It's reached the point that there are so many vessels in the Drake Passage that they almost need a traffic cop. And there is no traffic cop.”
And with prices in the $25,000-per-berth range, he said, “it’s all catering to the whims and desires of really rich people.”
So is he concerned about more accidents ahead?
“Absolutely,” Barnes told TE, noting the industry is largely self-regulated.
“Even the governments, if you talk to them privately, agree that they are very worried about this,” he said. “Even the IAATO privately will tell you the same thing.”
Barnes and others are also concerned about the growing number of helicopters and things like mini-subs on some of the new luxury expedition ships.
Helicopters, he said, are incredibly dangerous.
“It’s dangerous enough when you’re a government agency operating these for your own program. It’s a hostile environment on many levels,” Barnes said. “Not only that you couldn't be rescued, but the last thing the wildlife needs are more uninformed helicopter passengers out there. … It makes me angry, to be perfectly honest.”
Barnes said ASOC has been working for more than two decades to limit the size and number of boats, both for safety and the environment.
“Our message has been pretty much consistent but ignored,” he said. “Now, we’re all kind of hanging in the air, hoping each year that there’s not some terrible accident.”
And now, some news
– Does Wall Street know something we don’t about airline demand? Recession fears sparked an airline industry stock sell-off Wednesday, Dec. 7, CNBC reported, making us wonder if waiting to book our flights for 2023 might make some sense. The trading “really reflects concerns about a recession and demand turning down,” veteran airline industry analyst Helane Becker of Cowen told CNBC’s Sarah Eisen on Wednesday, Dec. 7, just before the market’s closing bell. “Airline traffic’s always good until it’s bad. You don’t really see the downturn coming.” What made the sell-off even more surprising, she noted, is that they reinstated dividends amid the travel rebound – with Dallas-based Southwest Airlines making the first move.
– Blue skies (and hopefully snow) ahead for ski season. Here’s some good news for those of us who hope that this winter’s ski season runs more smoothly than it has during the Covid years due to low staffing levels. Vail Resorts CEO Kirsten Lynch told employees she’s optimistic about hiring, citing “significantly higher staffing levels” than a year ago, according to NPR affiliate KPCW. Assuming there’s good snow (and we’re not joking), she said the levels should allow the company to operate all lifts and mountain terrain and bring back all restaurants, ski schools and rental locations. Of course, housing all of these employees in tony towns like Park City and Vail is another challenge entirely.
– Move over White Lotus! Hotel companies always trip over each other to promote which one is growing the most – and in the sexiest places – at ILTM. (You’d think they were trying out to be featured in HBO’s lavish luxury hotel drama set at the fictional White Lotus resort in dramatic Sicily!) But we’re bored by the same-old luxury press releases and more interested in the story behind the story. So when we heard Marriott's EDITION brand proclaim it plans to double in size to 35 locations by 2027, our ears perked up. Sure, we love the brand's understated luxury and always hip amenities, but it has a dramatic business story nearly worthy of Succession with unlikely partners, big risks, big failures, and wild ambitions such as its 2007 dream to grow to 100 locations. We hope someone gets a book deal out of it someday. For now, if you're curious, check out this old piece from Boutique Hotelier. EDITION gained fame for the simple fact that it was birthed by a wildly unlikely combination of straight-laced Marriott and disco-era nightclub impresario Ian Schrager of Studio 54 fame. Some of the “new” openings announced at ILTM included locations in Rome and Tokyo’s Ginza that were among the same ones promoted for 2021.
Saudi Arabia is making a big play for international tourism -- Jeri Clausing
Old trends, new players at ILTM
We always love the annual ILTM in Cannes. It’s a chance to catch up with old friends from around the globe and hear about the newest trends in luxury travel.
But, honestly, we didn't hear anything surprising this year. It was mostly a retelling of old trends. Guess what? People want experiences over goods. Oh, and wellness is a key driver in travel planning. I could go on, but we’ve been hearing it for years.
The one thing, however, that does continue to amaze us is the the amount of money Saudi Arabia – with its strict anti-gay, anti-women, anti-basic human rights and, of course, anti-alcohol policies – is pumping into promoting itself as a global tourism destination.
Just days after hosting the World Travel and Tourism Council in Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi-based company teams were out in force in Cannes.
Not familiar with Saudi's ambitious plans? Here are a few of Jeri's past stories about the country's push for luxury travel, it's disconnect with Western hospitality, and it's very ambitious the Red Sea project.
Would you spend your hard-earned dollars to vacation in Saudi Arabia?
Missed past editions of Travel Essential? Check these out:
ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORTS -- Why they're popping up all over
EUROPE -- Sailing the Rhine River
CANADA -- Service stole the show on this French Canadian sailing
LAS VEGAS -- Sin City's Covid-era makeover
ALASKA -- Can you touch an iceberg?
CARIBBEAN -- Our new favorite (lesser-known) island
GREENSBORO -- An unexpected delight in North Carolina
BIKER CHIC -- Riding and dining with Harley-Davidson!