Way back in the 60s, Lars-Eric Lindblad pioneered this type of travel. Acclaimed now as the father of ecotourism, Lars-Eric was the first travel company owner to take what he termed 'citizen explorers' to remote locations hitherto visited only by scientists, starting with the fascinating destinations of Antarctica and the Galapagos.
Lindblad believed that educated people who saw things with their own eyes would be a potent force for the preservation of the places they visited, and conservation was a key part of his programmes right from the start.
Over the years, we have seen many specialist companies join the market, some with chartered vessels, some on Russian ice-breakers, some adding water based trips to an extensive land programme. Germany's Hanseatic (subsequently acquired by Hapag-Lloyd) was the first five star ship in the market, and held that place for years until, with the introduction of Silver Explorer in 2008, Silversea created a new entrant to the market with Silversea Expeditions, alongside its classic luxury cruise fleet.
Now all of a sudden we are seeing a flurry of new build activity - like waiting for buses, there has been nothing for years and now all of a sudden announcement follows announcement. We are slightly concerned about the increase of capacity, but of course these are all tiny ships, so jointly will add just few a hundred berths to the world fleet.
Following Lindblad Expeditions' December announcement that they had signed a contract to build two new ships for 2017 and 2018, we now have a little more detail about the first, the 100-passenger National Geographic Quest which is being built near Seattle by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders and will sail in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, Costa Rica and Panama, then Belize and Guatemala.
As you may be aware, Scenic - the Australian touring company known in the UK primarily because of its Scenic and Emerald river cruise fleets - introduces its first expedition vessel Scenic Eclipse, currently under construction in Croatia, in September 2018, with spacious suites, a capacity of 228 guests, and lots of on board 'toys' including helicopters and submarines.
Hot on the heels of this announcement, and following its acquisition of a number European shipyards, Crystal has effectively stolen Scenic's thunder with a ship (Crystal Endeavor) to be launched just a little earlier in August 2018. Crystal have described this ship as 'the world's first purposebuilt polar class megayacht', with a capacity of 200, which will cruise polar regions with equipment to include two helicopters and two landing pads for flightseeing expeditions, as well as two seven-person submarines, eight electric amphibious zodiacs, jet skis, wave runners, kayaks, fishing facilities, paddle boards, snorkelling and scuba equipment, recompression chamber, dive support tender and a multi-person ATV. She will also have SEABOBs - the world's most technically advanced and powerful underwater scooter.
Not to be left out, Ponant, an early winner of the 'green ship' certification with environmental systems including dynamic positioning, has just made its first key announcement following its acquisition by Artemis in October, with the confirmation of a letter of intent for the order of four new vessels, with the first to be delivered in 2018. The ships will be Ice Class ranked and equipped with the latest technologies.
So now the buses are all on their way, give us a call on 020 7399 7630 to figure out which one is going to be your vessel of choice!