Small ship expedition cruising emerges from COVID-19 as a clear winner

TD Editorial Director APAC
Monique Ponfoort

Recently appointed CEO with an enviable industry resume, Monique Ponfoort is already making a big splash. With two new state-of-the-art ships in 2021, Aurora Expeditions is well-positioned as a 30 year, trusted brand with really unique, exciting selling points.

Travel Daily (TD): On a personal note, how are you, and what positives can we take from 2020?

Monique Ponfoort (MP): It was a really challenging year for everyone, but I’m very excited and optimistic for the entire industry, especially for the future of expedition cruising.

As an industry, we all need to remain resilient and inspired. That’s what drives us, and it’s also important we support each other across every sector.

I’m very fortunate and humbled to work with such a passionate and extraordinarily motivated team. Aurora Expeditions is an edgy outfit and we are growing every day; the word about us is already out.

2021 is our 30th anniversary and an industry milestone in expedition cruising. We also have a new ship on the way which is another major celebration. The Sylvia Earle, due for delivery in October, will launch with an Antarctic season.

As we increase our fleet’s size, we have so much more exciting product to bring to life, and that’s a huge positive. Forward bookings are very encouraging at pre-COVID registration levels. Many travellers today are gravitating to expedition cruising, and it’s an exciting trend with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see the most beautiful and remote parts of the world.

Monique Ponfoort (L), CEO of Aurora Expeditions, and Steve McLaughlin (R), Director of Sales APAC

TD: What makes Aurora Expeditions so unique?

MP: We are Australian owned with a unique Australian personality and ethos. Aurora Expeditions has more activities than anyone else in the market. We have a pioneering spirit, with 30 years of activity-based expeditions, and are undisputed leaders in this field. A great example is diving or snorkelling around icebergs, what a unique adventure. We encourage all of our passengers to get into the water for an unforgettable experience. Within fitness levels, we take passengers out of their comfort zone, and that’s where lifelong memories are found. Given our ships’ smaller size, we can reach places other larger ships can’t access. We get up-close and can be nimble and spontaneous; we can also offer so much more with fewer passengers.

TD: As the new CEO, what have you achieved so far, and what will the next 12 months look like?

MP: An incredible amount of planning for the future and ‘expedition scenarios’. I love listening to our talented teams, then Mother Nature leads the way, and we deliver the most extraordinary experiences.

With our new ship, the ‘Sylvia Earle’, we are now looking at a broader deployment across the world. We are specialists in the Russian Far East, The Kuril Islands, North-West Passage, Baja, and the Sea of Cortez, right through to Indonesia’s Raja Ampat and the remote Kimberley of Western Australia. Of course, The Arctic and Antarctica are inherent to our DNA.

Aurora Expeditions has a new, fascinating story to tell. Dr Sylvia Earle is an American biologist, oceanographer, explorer and conservationist. She’s known as the ‘heroine of the sea’ with a lifelong mission to save our oceans. We have the proudest of associations, and there is no other fitting name or badge of honour for Aurora Expeditions, new ship.

We have such a huge range of activities: walking, hiking, iceberg-snorkelling, diving, kayaking, skiing, snowshoeing, and even rock climbing. Amateur and professional photographers are also well catered for.

Our onboard lecturers are naturalist, historians, scientists, marine biologist and our expedition team are the best in the market.

Weather permitting our guests can camp on the ice with no tents! Demand for this experience is huge, and passengers love the bragging rights of these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

The expeditions, adventure and education, become infectious and passengers don’t want to miss a moment. Our guests are educated, well-travelled and looking to enrich their minds. They are buying an experience, something that’s so unique, and our word of mouth referrals is powerful; that speaks volumes because, after 30 years, we do our job exceptionally well.

TD: So what’s next for Aurora Expeditions?

We are delighted to have launched an exciting new 2021 Australia program. These outstanding expedition voyages will visit five States and Territories and explore some of our beautiful island’s most remote coastal wilderness areas, reefs and islands brimming with natural wonders and marine life. We are also thrilled to offer adventurous seeking Australian’s the unique opportunity to visit Commonwealth Bay and the Ross Sea in East Antarctica on several voyages departing from Hobart at the end of this year, and into the beginning of 2022. 

The 21 voyages, each lasting from seven to 26 days, will offer in-depth and fully immersive experiences and activities in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania between July and December. 

Destinations include the Kimberley Coast; Ningaloo Reef and Coral Coast; Kangaroo Island; Bass Strait Islands and Tasmania, with ports-of-call at Darwin, Broome, Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart.

After three decades at the forefront of polar expedition travel, and 23 year’s running expeditions in Australia, we are beyond excited to get back out exploring the best that Australia has to offer. Marine life in these regions include dugongs, dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays, whales, whale sharks, saltwater crocodiles, fur seals and sea lions.

TD: What messages do you have for the industry and anyone wanting to sell expedition cruising?

MP: My advice to agents is to gain a better understanding of expedition cruising. It’s not just another cruise; it’s far more immersive, and if you take the time to train, you will enjoy a better conversion rate. Where here to help you, and we have a team who are available and fully supportive.

TD: How does Aurora Expeditions support their trade network?

MP: We offer strong webinars series and are focusing on more sales activity in South East Asia and China. Our trade-friendly sales teams offer support, marketing assets, and cocktail evening events. We encourage you to connect and look forward to working with you and your clients.

To connect directly with all markets:


Director of Sales APAC: Steve McLaughlin

Business Development Manager (Australia): Anna Powell

Business Development Manager (Australia): Alex Fayan

Business Development Manager (Australia): Amelya Grey

Business Development Manager (China): Gloria Guo


North America

Director of Sales North America: Lisa Bertini

Business Development Manager: George Johns



Business Development Manager: James Turner

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