UnCruise Adventures: Navigating Rough Waters in Adventure Travel

2 February 2021

Most of our guests would typically be sipping cocktails on the bow of our small boats from Panama to Baja right now forging new friendships on weeklong adventures. A dedicated crew would be highlighting the best in each location and our operations team preparing for a full Alaska season. That is where we were in March 2020. Fast-forward, months later, amid global travel shut down and ten months of no small boat operations, things are different, and as an adventure travel company, so are we. It is business as un-unusual in many ways. 

As we round a corner for smoother waters, we are again preparing for a highly anticipated 2021 Alaska season. Last year’s lull certainly was not a time to be idle but one we used to become nimbler, more connected, and more data-driven than ever before. We’re still here and can’t help but focus on a brighter perspective in contrast to last year’s challenges. Here is some of what we did to creatively restructure and stay top of mind for future guests.  

We founded a small ship coalition, hosted a panel on supporting travel diversity, did global press conferences on no sail orders and onboard COVID-19 testing, brought a series of expedition presentations to our YouTube viewers and Zoom participants, created dozens of armchair travel videos, launched a podcast and online gift shop, improved technologies, operational protocols, and processes, created a micro-grant fund to support crew families hit by hardship, kicked off our 25th-anniversary celebration and reconnected with our guests and travel advisors in a big way. Whew, and we’re getting ready to launch a new website, booking engine, and customized travel app. All focused on a positive user experience. The pandemic was an opportunity to listen closely to the industry and build what we needed. These are six actions we focused on. Let’s break it down.

Promotional Activities and Communication

Our activity focused on digital outlets and advertising budget conservation. So, we utilized our experienced guides to share a series of live Zoom presentations around wildlife, nature, cocktail making, and yoga topics. Live questions kept people engaged and grew our newsletter subscriber list. Print advertising was on hold and social media, banner ads, and consumer content was amplified. Outreach focused on personalization and relevance with media, partners, and guests.

Repurposed Storytelling

On the water and off, our guests and travel partners have come to expect storytelling as part of our brand. That translated into hosting an expert travel panel early in the pandemic on diversity in travel and creating a more balanced future. The high level of attendance helped us gain insights and created an initiative to launch our own adventure travel podcast hosted by the company’s CEO. Now various stories from our brand and others are connected on the go and any device. We also use this as a tool to strengthen key messages on our own platform as part of our content strategy.

Focusing on Value and Incentivized Future Travel

Our guests are an important consideration in everything we do, so when travel stopped, we worked with our past and future guests on more flexible conditions, loyalty benefits, and future incentives. Our analytics tracking showed small group and small boat searches up in key locations, so our outreach spotlighted the travel dreamers. The focus was on inviting a future experience rather than a sale, increasing our personalized follow up with newsletters and incentives for our guests and travel partners. People wanted a clear incentive and no-barrier booking options if there were future cancelations. So, certificates and payment deadlines were extended, vouchers with added benefit were offered, and we replaced our normal deposit with a no-hassle $100 reservation plus extended final payment. We listened, we adjusted, and we are working towards more effective measures that provide options for our guests and experiential bookings.

Bringing the Senses Home

Our nature heavy small boat expeditions spark all of the sense but as we watched global lockdowns put into place, we sought more inspiration through visual travel experiences. Travel united through video which brought together our ‘Be with Us’ video travel campaign to both connect and inspire those around the world. That was followed by our behind-the-scenes video series and getting the know the CEO. These real-life transparent stories took people into the lives of the faces behind the company and walked them through a step-by-step process from how to get tested in Alaska, to company safety protocols. We continue to stay strong with travelers’ connections to our videos all focused on when we meet again. 

Giving Back with Micro-Grants

Like many other brands, we have watched our foreign tour operators, guides, vendors, and partners around the world lose their livelihood and be put at risk of losing everything. As a small business ourselves we have felt the hardships and wanted to help create a safety net for our foreign-based guides and vendors who have made our small boat adventures what they are. One way we can contribute is to help our guides support their families with micro-grants to take care of essentials or support their own small business growth. Each person has the opportunity to submit an application and receive support from these grants and our public Crew and Family fundraiser to get them through these tough times. Our own staff, crew, and CEO have provided significant support to the fund, and 15% of all sales from our online boutique are also contributed to the relief fund. 

Momentum Through Technology

We’ve spent the past several months creating changes in the company we could have never imagined, and a big part of that was a change in technology and efficiency. We’ve moved to automating manual processes and becoming digital-centric on everything from our internal team software to online booking systems. These changes helped our smaller team work together, keep transparency in communications, and create new platforms like our online gift shop with items our guests were missing during this time. Moving forward travelers will expect contactless check-in’s and step by step digital support, and our internal changes have helped us prepare for that and stay customer-centric. Improved data and analytics will continue to help us recover. 

Like many of you, we are working towards a more sustainable and safe travel future. We may never return to normal travel, but there is something new on the horizon. The many heartwarming conversations we’ve had with those in the adventure travel industry and beyond have made it worth it.

Hear more from UnCruise Adventures and the company's industry-leading brand strategy from Owner and CEO, Dan Blanchard, in our Meet the Experts: Brand Resilience Webinar in the ATTA On-Demand Library