TWILLINGATE, NL — It’s not unheard of for a company to launch during a crisis.
But launching a travel company during a pandemic – a pandemic with a long list of test requirements, rules and other travel restrictions – takes nerves of steel and no small amount of daring.
Clayton Anderson and Jason Hillier, co-founders of The Polar Adventure Company, have stared down adverse conditions before. The veteran polar adventurers have 35 years of polar experience between them. They started The Polar Adventure Company, based in Twillingate, Newfoundland, in December 2020 during the height of the pandemic.
“We saw an opportunity to do what we love while leveraging our considerable experience in the Polar industry,” Anderson tells Travelweek.
We wanted to know how the company works with travel agents, and what agents can expect by way of commission when booking on the platform.
We also wanted to know if the current boom in bucket list trips is fuelling bookings on the site.
As reported last month, The Polar Adventure Company currently features 500+ voyages and trips to the Arctic and Antarctic. That number is expected to grow to more than 1,000 in 2022. The company also offers private charters and trips.
The company’s site is polaradventure.com, and it can be reached at email@example.com. Partner companies on the site include Aurora Expeditions, Hurtigruten Expeditions, Hapag-Lloyd, Ponant, Quark Expeditions, Scenic, Seabourn, Silversea and Swan Hellenic. And coming soon to the site, and available for booking in the meantime, are Adventure Canada, Albatros Expeditions, Antarctica XXI, G Adventures, Heritage Expeditions, Lindblad Expeditions, Oceanwide Expeditions and Polar Latitudes.
COMMISSIONS & METASEARCH TRENDS
The wide range of product on the platform is a key selling point for agents exploring options for their clients, Anderson tells Travelweek.
“Rather than trying to find voyages on a bunch of different sites, come to PolarAdventure.com and see them all at once. Currently we have 9 providers and 536 voyages in our search engine – but that will grow to 17 providers and over 1,500 voyages by March. We have access to all those 17 providers now, however. We also have a specials section that outlines the various offers in the market across the various providers.”
He says the company also consults with travel advisors “to better understand their client’s needs and recommend the voyages we think will best resonate with them. If you ask any tour operator, they will list the many reasons they are the best option. We will instead list the many options and which is best for their client. This saves the average advisor from needing to do the research with a complex, niche product – essentially outsourcing the expertise.”
Metasearch engines in the online travel space are nothing new. As travel agents know all too well, Expedia and Travelocity, the first major OTAs, came on the scene in the mid-1990s, offering aggregated fare results for airlines worldwide. Orbitz, launched by several of the biggest airlines in the U.S., aggregated airfares too. Then sites like Kayak came along, aggregating search results from the OTAs. A seemingly endless stream of other OTAs and metasearch engines followed.
In recent years more niche metasearch engines have emerged for travel. And more are working with travel agents. The Polar Adventure Company is now on that list. In addition to unbiased opinions and plenty of product, the platform also offers laser focus, says Anderson: “We are completely focused on Polar – with a wide view of availability and special offers across the Polar industry.”
As for commissions, Anderson says: “Why not get a second opinion? Travel advisors will receive the same commission as if they book directly. These are expensive bookings for once-in-a-lifetime trips. If an advisor doesn’t specialize in Polar, why not consult with someone who does?
DEALS FOR CLIENTS “WHO ARE BOLD ENOUGH TO SEIZE THE DAY”
While everyone is waiting to see what travel trends surface post-pandemic, most seem to agree that bucket-list dream trips will be near the top of the list. We asked Anderson what The Polar Adventure Company is hearing from travellers and travel agents, about polar expeditions. Is there increased interest out there?
“The idea of pent-up demand is one of the main reasons we launched The Polar Adventure Company,” says Anderson. “Our target demographic just lost a year of Antarctic opportunities and two full years of Arctic opportunities to take that ‘dream trip’, and the Baby Boomers are telling us they are feeling increased pressure to do these voyages while they still can. With the number of bookings pushed forward due to pandemic cancellations, there are inventory constraints and inherently an increased difficulty in finding space aboard desired sailings. This is also compounded with renewed interest in Polar travel.”
He adds that travel budgets are so far not a problem. “We are also hearing from both advisors and clients that their budgets have been expanded, with many opting for the ‘revenge spending option’ and treating themselves to a higher level of luxury, longer voyages, or even inviting other family members to join on these dream voyages.”
Momentum for polar travel was growing pre-pandemic. According to stats from the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, Antarctic tourist numbers more than doubled between 2011 and 2019, from 26,500 to 55,600. Says Anderson: “Most of our partners stated that 2020 was on track to be the best year ever for Antarctic cruising. Occupancy levels were exceptional and new ship builds were scheduled to come online to keep up with demand for both space and for a more modern, efficient, and refined shipboard experience.”
And then the pandemic hit.
At this point in time, while the industry and the travelling public are on omicron watch, there is still interest in booking travel for the months ahead. The cruise advisory however is still in place.
“There is, of course, some hesitancy with clients regarding the cruise industry, given the headlines at the beginning of the pandemic,” says Anderson.
“Operators, ports, and the countries themselves have responded with strict protocols for screening, distancing, and disinfection – and most operators are only offering passage to those who are fully vaccinated to make sure that they are providing the safest experience possible.
“We wholeheartedly believe in this approach, and the smaller expeditionary vessels are the perfect way to get back to cruising – they have fewer clients onboard and a generous staff-to-passenger ratio with the ability to maintain these strict protocols.”
Places like Antarctica also have limited human interaction, so the chances of exposure are minimal, on either side, he adds.
Anderson says agents should watch out for “some spectacular last-minute offers available on remaining space for those vaccinated travellers that are bold enough to seize the day. Expedition cruise prices will only be rising in the future as these iconic destinations continue their previous upward trajectory.”