Tahoe City, CA – Come January 2012, Galapagos National Park regulations go into effect to decrease traffic to over-populated (by boat) sites in the Galapagos and to better distribute visitor largess around this fragile ecosystem. Itinerary changes will affect how, where and for what duration travelers experience specific islands by boat.
Small ship expedition cruise expert AdventureSmith Explorations represents 80 percent of the small ships that ply these waters, so staying on top of changes is a priority for Todd Smith, founder and president. His staff visit the islands frequently and know first-hand the boats and landing sites. This knowledge assists in matching clients to a cruise of their choice.
“Changes are already in place for about half of the boats in the Galapagos. Feb 1, 2012 is when the last vessels will implement the new itineraries,” says Smith, adding that the company’s website is updating information and itineraries on an ongoing basis.
He reports that the length of a cruise varies now from four to 15 days, whereas before cruises were from four to eight days.
“To optimize potentials of experiencing the variety of bird, mammal and marine life here, travelers who can afford the time and money for 10 or 11 day programs will have a more in-depth experience. For cruises of shorter duration, our island experts will help travelers choose the itinerary that reaches as many of the top sites as their time permits,” says Smith, noting that not everyone can afford the time and budget for longer cruises. “Because of the new regulations travelers, need an expert to help them choose the right cruise.”
While the changes will protect over-exposed sites, Smith notes that because many budgets won’t accommodate the longer, let’s-see-everything programs, some guests will forego experiences that were typical in the past.
“But, to make sure there’s space on the style and price point of a ship that’s available when clients want to travel is going to be an issue of supply and demand,” says Smith, who underscores trying to avoid last-minute reservations.
“Visitation to Galapagos is limited, vessels are small and spaces fill up fast. Many Galapagos cruises are often sold out 6-9 months in advance with holidays booked more than 12 months in advance,” he says. His company places clients on small yachts and sailboats for 8 to 32 passengers; mid-size ships of 40-60 passengers and larger ships with 80-100 passengers.
Because this is such a popular destination for small ships and passengers alike, Smith maintains a team of Galapagos experts to provide advice on itineraries, interests, abilities (snorkeling and diving) and budgets.
Matt Kareus, Executive Director, International Galapagos Tour Operators Association, of which AdventureSmith Explorations is an active member, said: “The measure should cut visitation at 15 heavily used sites, give equal access to all boats at sites, increase the use of underused sites, enhance the visitor experience, reduce accidents and reduce the total number of visitors by cutting out shorter itineraries. We see all of these as positive outcomes for tour operators, for visitors, and for the Park.”
Kareus says his organization’s 40 members “tend to be ahead of the curve when it comes to issues of sustainability so I think, generally speaking, most of our members understand and appreciate the reasons behind the change.”