Scenic Group’s Capt. Erwan Le Rouzic, master of Scenic Eclipse praised the wild and remote areas of South America, including Patagonia and the Chilean Fjords, adding that by partnering with local organisations, park rangers and national parks, Scenic Group hopes to open up new destinations in the region.

‘The places we’ve been, they’ve not changed in 15-20 years, but as you have the community of expedition ships growing, with lots of new ships coming… we want to open up new destinations and look for places that are pristine and keep them pristine,’ he said.

Noting that Scenic Eclipse 2 is on the way, he went on to declare that Scenic is ‘looking forward to joining Antarctica.’ 

The comments were made during the ‘Regional Update: Central and South America’ session on the last day of Seatrade Cruise Virtual Expedition Cruising. 

The remarks prompted moderator Hans Lagerweij, president, Albatros Travel/Albatros Expeditions to respond, ‘It is essential, I think, for us all to keep developing new destinations… we all want to prevent ending up ship-by-ship in one destination.’ 

Sustainable operations

Andrea Narvaez, sales support and marketing manager, Australis Cruises reminded spectators of the measures adopted by Australis to protect and preserve areas on the southern tip of Patagonia; since 2016, the cruise line has prohibited the use of plastic water bottles, saving wastage of 75,000 water bottles since then. ‘We provide canteens that our passengers can refill… we have different purified water dispensers throughout the ship,’ she explained.

‘We implemented last season the paperless policy, so we do not provide any type of documents or printed material, so we avoid extra waste in our operations.

‘When we go from the ship to the land, we have special wooden pathways that we place there each season… we move them at the end of each season to a new area – that way we avoid leaving any footprint. 

‘The reason we do this is so people don’t have to walk on the ground of the landscapes…. And we don’t damage any area that we visit.’ 

Discussing Australis’ role in research and data collection, Narvaez offered, ‘We have relationships with scientific companies, we take them [scientists] on board to take water samples… [and measure] movement of the glaciers… They [passengers] can participate and help take the samples… and our guides are in constant contact with them [scientific organisations] providing all this data that they get from each expedition that we do.’ 

According to Felipe Castro Toovey, sales director North America, Australis Cruises, ‘It is exciting to see that glaciers facing the southern side are growing, those facing the northern side are stable.’

Eco-tourism and education

During the session, Denise Guillen Zuniga, deputy minister of tourism, Panama highlighted some of the strategies from the country’s Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism 2020-2025, which aims to attract more environmentally aware travellers. In reference to Coiba National Park, she said, ‘The quality of our reefs in that area are untouched because nobody lives around there. That island used to be a penal colony, an old jail, that we took out in around 2000… you can see all species there… the new tourists, the conscious ones, want experiences that give them information.’

She went on to focus on Panama’s Tourism Conservation and Research (TCI) strategy – an economic model for Panama developed by Dr. Ayala in 1998, which focuses on preserving the country’s natural and cultural heritage. 

Interactions with local cultures

‘We do lectures [to] educate the guests on marine life and also in terms of culture,’ expressed Capt. Le Rouzic, ‘You have lots of different cultures in South America – we very regularly organise meetings with local communities and have them come on board or go ashore, and organise parties with them.’ 

According to Zuniga, tourists visiting Panama can learn plenty from indigenous cultures, including how to produce medicines from plants, for instance. 

Outlook in the COVID-19-era

‘We have a lot of hope in the vaccine, we’re hoping we’re still going to have a lot of traffic,’ commented Narvaez. ‘The good thing about our area is it’s really far away, there’s no locals there… it’s very pristine, it’s very untouched.’ 

Toovey added that Australis aims to resume sailing in the region from September to April 2022; Capt. Le Rouzic remarked that he hopes for South America to be ‘open and easily accessible’ next summer.