The benefits of small-ship cruising

In Mind Your Own Retirement, co-hosts John Deeks and Kaye Fallick dream of going cruising once again. They chat with Jeff Gillies, commercial director of Coral Expeditions.

John Deeks: It’s time to go cruising. And boy, I tell you, I remember last year I went cruising up in Cairns and went out to the reef and it was just sensational. I had a great time and I know that all the tourists who were on board, they just couldn’t get enough of it either. So we thought we’d go and have a chat to Jeff Gillies.

Kaye Fallick: So Jeff, you’re from Coral Expeditions, the Commercial Director, if you don’t mind and in terms of pent-up demand, John and I are already talking about it. We haven’t talked about food, which we normally do. But we’re keen to really come out of the blocks and start cruising in Australia. So can you tell us what’s been happening at Coral Expeditions over the shutdown?

Jeff Gillies: It’s been a bit of an abnormal experience for us. I’m sure that it’s turned everybody’s world on its head. But we’ve got all four of our vessels here in Cairns port, all of our crew are here and the office, so we’ve kept ourselves really busy. It’s very comforting actually to have everybody sort of not spread out in different parts of the ocean and the world. And we’re really grateful that we didn’t have any instances of COVID among any passengers on any trips. So, we’ve been keeping busy planning for the future. Obviously, some of our well-advanced sailing schedules will need to be changed.

JD: Tell us about your vessels, Jeff, and tell us where you go?

JG: So we’ve got the new Coral Adventurer, which is a purpose-built state-of-the-art expedition ship. That arrived with us in April of 2019. And the Coral Discoverer, which is a more intimate 72-person vessel. And then we’ve got two smaller ocean-going catamarans that take 45 guests out. We’ll get back to operation with the Coral Adventurer and the Coral Discoverer soon, we’re hoping. If the borders open across the country, we’re hoping that some time in August or September could see us back in operation. And I think the best read that we’ve got off the market and the environment is that Australian coastlines are going to be the focus. So we already do the Kimberley, looking at 25 years now in the Kimberley, so we’ll look to get back there in August and September. We have some seven-night Great Barrier Reef trips, our Tasmania season in the summer from January through to March.

JD: Wow. You really do cover Australia, don’t you?

JG: Oh we do. We absolutely do. And I think this will bring on the opportunity for us to explore some new coastlines. So we’re really keen to look at the entire length of Western Australia. And we’ll also look to potentially come around into South Australia across the bight and spend some time exploring shores down there. So it’s been a really busy time just imagining what else we can add to the domestic coastline schedule while we won’t be going too much further field.

KF: So Jeff, just in terms of small ship cruising, is there some kind of plan that will radically change that sort of cruising? I mean, is it distancing or is it too early to tell?

JG: I think the first principle is that small ship cruising is so differentiated from large cruises that they just don’t belong in the same category. So, small ship cruising has always been about small numbers going to remote unpopulated places, and the ships have always had plenty of spacing, you know, the highest quality in terms of guest to crew ratio, high quality of care, preparation and planning. I guess our company has the added comfort that all of our guests are, predominantly, Australian and our crew are all Australian. So we don’t have some of the challenges of getting through crew and passenger base to more affected areas. Small ship [passengers] should have a great deal of confidence and comfort that we’ve put all sorts of measures in place focusing on prevention. Our COVID management plan is now approved by every state and territory in the country, and the key thrust of that is prevention. So doing everything that we can do to not have any exposure before we depart.

KF: So you’re actually quite a long way down the track; I would use the word ‘poised’.

JD: They have not been sitting on their laurels at this company. Have they?

JG: Being small and nimble we’re often the first to move and we got a fairly clear indication that the domestic coastlines and domestic operators would be those that would recover first. So we didn’t sit on our hands, we kept ourselves busy.

JD: Kaye as you and I have spoken, this is the perfect opportunity. Once everything is lifted for our listeners to go see Australia first, it’s a well-worn term, but it’s so true.

KF: And I think the next question is a hard one, Jeff, but I’m going to be annoying and ask it anyway. What’s the cancellation policy, because I’m listening to this thinking, ‘Wow, I really would like to do the Tasmanian cruise’. So if I was to book that say for early next year, and then the borders weren’t how they should be, can I cancel? How does that work?

JG: In the current environment we are offering all new bookings what we call a free deposit protection plan. And in our general terms and conditions we issue a 100 per cent credit for any trip that you booked that does get affected by the government restraints. That can be used well into the future, and it protects you against any price increases and we’ve had a wonderful response. We’ve had somewhere upwards of 1500 guests who have been impacted through this year’s Kimberley season and as of today, we’ve got most of those relocated back into trips next year.

JD: I don’t want to sound too parochial here, but the wonderful thing is that you’re talking to an Australian company who is reputable. It’s not some big, huge overseas conglomerate who you have to sort of fight through.

KF: Or a booking engine.

JD: Exactly or a booking engine. You are speaking to the people who get it, they get it, and they will work with you.

KF: Well, that’s what you’re hoping for in travel. That it’s, there’s a new paradigm. So Jeff, to make a booking?

JG: Just visit our website, you’ll see all the information that you need and a great selection of our Australian trips listed there.