At Luxury Travel Advisor’s ULTRA Summit 2021, held at La Cantera Resort & Spa in San Antonio, TX, July 25-27, travel advisors in attendance received a sneak peek as to what they can expect from MSC Group’s new luxury cruise brand, Explora Journeys. Sharing the exciting news was Chris Austin, chief sales officer for Explora Journeys, and Saul Fonseca, head of sales for Explora Journeys.
According to Austin, it has been a “long-held dream of the Aponte family (the owner of MSC Group) to create a differentiated luxury brand.” On the opportunity to help create and launch the brand, Austin said there is “nothing more rewarding,” citing the ability to take a “blank piece of paper” and listen to consumers and bring together experience and knowledge from the new team to create a vision. Austin also mentioned he intends to “set a new gold standard in partnership with our travel advisor partners and deliver an amazing experience for your clients.”
As for Explora Journeys, Austin calls it “an exquisite, modern, luxury cruise experience that really hasn’t been designed [previously].” He adds that it will “Appeal to very discerning, affluent traveler.”
So, what do you need to know?
Chris Austin and Saul Fonseca of Explora Journeys with Kareem George, Culture Traveler at ULTRA
There are several ways, according to Austin, in which Explora Journeys aims to be the “best-in-class partners to travel advisors.” For one, travel advisors already have the ability to get their clients on waitlists for suites for its first vessel, Explora I. This is not yet an option for consumers.
Better yet, however, might be the commission payments: Explora Journeys, Austin says, will be “Creating a rolling commission payment program, so you will be paid your commission on the deposit you put down for our journeys.” Advisors will also be paid commission again once the booking is paid in full. As for the commission level? Advisors will be paid 18 percent.
Austin also adds that Explora Journeys will have no NCFs (non-commissionable fees): “You will be paid the full commission on the retail fare,” he said. Advisors will earn 10 percent commission on transfers, pre- and post-cruise hotel stays, over-land journey and destination experiences. In addition, should a client cancel their trip, advisors will be paid commission on all moneys withheld by Explora Journeys.
Explora Journeys' first ship, Explora I
As for the ships, Fonseca calls them “super-sized superyachts,” while Austin added that the maritime architects behind the line’s vessels typically designs superyachts. When it came to creating the spaces, Explora Journeys surveyed 20,000 consumers. “All of their answers have driven the design of the ship,” Austin says.
The first ship, Explora I, making its debut in 2023, which will be followed by a new ship in each of the following three years, with plans for an additional ship each in 2027 and 2028. “This will be the fastest luxury brand ever launched in the world,” Austin adds.
The ships will each be 63,900 tons, accommodating about 900 guests in 461 suites. For comparison, ships of similar sizes might have a capacity between 1,300 and 1,400 guests. In addition, Austin says that Explora Journeys “will have the highest host to guest ratio in the industry at 1.25-to-1.”
Each of the 461 cabins will be oceanfront suites with terraces (“the balconies are so large we call them terraces,” Austin says). He also touts “the largest leading category in the industry” with the brand’s smallest suite totaling 377 square feet. There will also be nine culinary options onboard (plus in-suite dining), four pools (one of which will be indoor with a retractable roof), 64 private cabanas and a spa. According to Austin, when Explora Journeys surveyed consumers, they said “they wanted space, the wanted choice, they wanted privacy, the wanted elegance, comfort.”
The indoor pool aboard Explora I
Consumers also said they wanted itineraries that were “slower and deeper.” For that reason, Austin says, Explora will not “chase ports.” Instead, itineraries will include earlier arrival times, later departures, some overnight and even nights as sea, since consumers mentioned they sail because they enjoy time on the water and want time to enjoy the ship.
The first sailing will be from Barcelona to Athens on May 16, 2023. This will be followed by a sailing from Athens to Istanbul. But don’t expect the ship to remain in the Mediterranean long. Austin says it will be traveling “halfway around the world.”