travelBulletin sat down with Hurtigruten’s Managing Director Asia Pacific, Damian Perry, to get his thoughts on sustainability, coronavirus and the future of cruise.

You joined Hurtigruten as Managing Director Asia Pacific in 2017, what was it about the company that attracted you?

I had already worked with Hurtigruten as a partner for many years and clearly understood their potential in this region. The company’s way of doing business is typically Norwegian – with an emphasis on innovation, leadership, transparency and honesty – which was incredibly attractive to me. The company is focused on a win-win model, yet won’t compromise on its brand values.

Last year Hurtigruten opened an Australian office in Melbourne – what was the thinking behind establishing a bigger presence here?

We wanted to be in charge of our own destiny and make sure that we were authentically represented in this market. We exited our previous local partnerships and established our own business, brand and team to truly represent our way of doing business – and it worked. The GSA or secondary partner representation model is a dinosaur and is now irrelevant in this market. Strategic partnerships, manufactured product and experiences and differentiated specialist services is the only feasible business model. Our partners today are smart, focused on their offering, and work strategically with us.

Hurtigruten is known for its commitment to sustainability – why is this important and how does it set the company apart?

This is one of our greatest differentiators. Our sustainability agenda is broad but as with everything we do, it is genuine. We are willing to be disruptive, to hold others and ourselves to account, and invest in ongoing innovation and development. While we lead in new fuel sources such as LNG, biogas and hybrid battery powered ships, our goal is even better low emission cruising in the future. Community development and managing overtourism is also key as well as supporting science to build a long-term sustainable expedition cruise sector.

Until COVID-19, expedition cruise’s future looked rosy. Have your expectations about the future of the sector changed this year?

I believe we will be leaner and stronger when international travel returns. Hurtigruten is fortunate to have outstanding leaders, committed investors and a strong board. We have built a high performing, profitable business that is well managed, so financially we are stronger than most in our sector.

Travellers will book with businesses that can deliver safe, yet authentic experiences. We are well placed to deliver for this market segment with genuine experiences and worldwide itineraries. The travel industry will recalibrate in 2021 and, once we have settled into a new normal, I predict 2022 will be a boom year for Hurtigruten.

The travel industry has had a massive shock this year – how will that change how travel does business into the future? Which travel companies, wholesalers and retailers will survive and thrive?

The reality is that some will not survive. Cruise will always have a place and some will do better than others. Our business and experiences are very different from the classic big white ship model, and being small and sustainable will be even more attractive to cruisers in the future as travellers expect more, and hold travel companies to account more than ever before.

Specialisation and remaining relevant will be critical for survival over the next 10 years. Only the most innovative and forward-thinking organisations that can effectively serve the current clientele but also appeal to a new audience will remain relevant post COVID-19.

There has always been criticism of the cruise industry – what would you change about the sector?

Let’s start with the leadership: their intent, willingness and delivery on fundamental changes in sustainable, environmentally and culturally responsible travel experiences. The market is changing and without a consolidated effort to address real problems such as waste, overtourism, health and hygiene, lowering emissions and innovating with alternative fuels, cruising’s reputation will be at risk.

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