Interview with Rich Heller, Marine Product Manager for G Adventures
Rich is the Marine Operations Manager at G Adventures. Having worked with the tour operator’s marine programs since 2006, he has had the opportunity to visit some of the world’s most remote and beautiful destinations, almost always by boat. Rich brings a mix of field experience and passion for wildlife, remote destinations and shipping that help G Adventures create life-changing experiences. In addition to the tour operator’s Toronto headquarters, Rich has spent time working in the Antarctic and South East Asia.
Travel Research Online (TRO): G Adventures have been around for almost 25 years, with a goal to “ensure an authentic and unforgettable, life-changing experience for everyone”. In what ways has your company continued to guarantee this type of experience for travelers?
Rich Heller (RH): Our commitment to collaborating with local communities, paired with our dedication to leading with service, has enabled us to offer authentic, meaningful and life-changing experiences in over 100 countries on all seven continents.
TRO: Your company has put an emphasis on tourism projects that work within the local communities in your circuit of destinations. Can you explain a little further?
RH: Tourism is one of the largest industries on earth, worth $7 trillion, generates 9.5 percent of the world GDP and supports more than 266 million jobs worldwide (1 in 11 jobs). Further, it is a fundamental lifeline and vital to the livelihood of countless countries. When done correctly, tourism can strengthen economies, create employment opportunities and battle poverty. It can be a force for good and the greatest form of wealth distribution. By collaborating with local communities and including visits to tourism projects in our itineraries, we’re able to help drive and foster the positive impacts of travel.
TRO: How does the environment on a small cruise ship differ from what most travelers associate with “cruising”?
RH: Smaller ships are much more personal and much more intimate. You get to know everyone by the end of the trip – the crew, our Chief Experience Officers (CEO) and all of the other passengers. If you have questions about the destinations or the natural environments, you can ask one of our CEOs who, in most cases, are naturalists. There is a greater feeling of being a part of the expedition or the journey and that you are discovering something with a small group of people who have now become your friends. You’re not just another passenger arriving at a large cruise port in the Caribbean.
TRO: Describe the onboard experience when traveling with G Adventures.
RH: Our onboard experience is focused on maximizing our guests’ experience in the destinations they are visiting. While other cruise operators may focus on what is happening onboard the ship (ie climbing walls, multiple restaurants), for us it is really about where we are going, whether that’s Antarctica, Galapagos, Greek Islands or the Amazon. Our ships are focused on giving our guests the best possible experience in those places and put the focus off the ship. Therefore, we have briefings and lectures on the places we are visiting, passengers are offered options if they want to hike, snorkel or even go camping in the Antarctic.
Our passengers are always well fed, have a comfortable bed to sleep in but are curious about the destinations they are visiting.
TRO: How many different itineraries does G Adventures feature in the Marine “style”?
RH: A lot! With five vessels in the Galapagos, Amazon boat, Expedition ship in the Arctic and Antarctic, and sailboats in Greece, Croatia, Thailand and BVI, we really have a massive range of ships and yacht-based travel options that passengers can choose from.
TRO: Typically, how many certified tour guides are on each ship?
RH: Each sailboat has a Skipper/CEO for every 8 guests. In the Galapagos and Amazon, there is one CEO for every 16 passengers. Our Expedition has one CEO for every 10 passengers.
TRO: The Galapagos Islands are a popular cruising destination. What are some of the shore excursions guests can participate in here?
RH: Galapagos is all about the wildlife. Each of the islands, small bays and islets have large colonies of sea birds, shore birds, marine iguanas and sea lions, and that’s just on land. Underwater there are massive coral reefs, sea turtles, rays and reef sharks. We offer great walking and hiking experiences. Passengers can relax, hang out on the beach and go snorkeling to explore life under water. Each island offers a unique experience. The Galapagos is one of the most concentrated wildlife destinations in the world. A trip there is sure to be unforgettable.
TRO: The intimacy of a small ship cruise experience can have many benefits, such as personalized excursions and tour guides who remember your name after just two days on board. What are some of the other benefits that small cruise experiences, like G Adventures, can offer travelers?
RH: Lifelong connections with other travelers and our crew/staff members. Our itineraries are generally developed to be flexible so that we can adapt to local environmental changes or seasonal changes, providing guests with a unique experience. We take you away from the crowds so that you get the most out of a destination, hitting the highlights, but then getting off the main route. We also give passengers access to locations and destinations that are not available to large groups. Smaller ships get into places that the bigger ships cannot.
TRO: Lets talk specifics. How does your cruise vessel, the Evolution, differ from the rest of the ships in your fleet? What type of amenities are included that are not featured on the other ships?
RH: The Evolution is larger with 32 passengers but still considered small group. It has two naturalist guides and a cruise director. There is always someone on hand to answer your questions and provide greater insight and appreciation of the Galapagos. The Evolution also has larger cabins than the other vessels, sea kayaks, a Jacuzzi and indoor and outdoor dining areas. (Follow this link to check out the Evolution) https://www.gadventures.com/travel-styles/cruising/galapagos/evolution/?ref=trip
TRO: How would an agent go about selling a cruise experience with G Adventures? What are some of the benefits to emphasize to clients?
RH: Agents should look for someone who is really looking to get the most out of the destination they are visiting. We create life-changing experiences in some of the most magical places on the planet. We offer great value on our programs with high levels of service. We want our guests to focus on the experience off the ship and to understand everything that each unique destination has to offer.
TRO: What’s up next for G Adventures and small ship cruising?
RH: We are looking to grow the number of vessels in the Galapagos and expand our sailing program in Europe.