Amazon passengers not thwarted by pirates, Zika

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Amazon Cruise
While European river cruising has certainly had its fair share of public relations challenges this year, marketing the Amazon River in 2016 has been no cakewalk either.

First there was the outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which took the media by storm in late 2015 and early 2016, and then The New York Times last month published an extensive expo about the issue of pirates along the Brazilian Amazon, resurfacing another image challenge the region faces.
And yet, despite it all, bookings for river cruises along the Amazon remain strong, according to the majority of operators with inventory there.

“Overall, we did receive a lot of questions regarding cruise safety and Zika, but it did not affect our bookings or interest in the Amazon as a travel destination,” said Pats Illich, who oversees marketing for the Miami-based Rainforest Cruises, a company that sells river cruises on both the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon.

Tara Ellison, director of operations for International Expeditions, which has been operating on the Peruvian Amazon for some 40 years, said the company saw an uptick last month for its Amazon itineraries that corresponded with its Cyber Week promotion, and that prior to that it didn’t appear that clients were overly concerned about Zika (as they are mostly not of childbearing age, noted Ellison) or about crime and safety.

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“The Peruvian Amazon, especially the area where we travel near Iquitos, is incredibly welcoming to travelers,” said Ellison, who was preparing for her 12th trip to the Peruvian Amazon this month. “After pirate incidents farther afield and closer to home, Peruvian authorities have made security a top priority.”

Francesco Galli Zugaro, founder and CEO of Aqua Expeditions, said his company has seen a spike in bookings in the past two months, a phenomenon he attributed to the World Health Organization having declared last month that Zika is no longer a global health “emergency” and because the Peruvian Ministry of Health ended its Zika health emergency in October. (Notably, the WHO stated that Zika remains a “significant public health challenge”.)

Delfin Amazon Cruises also said that it has not seen a drop in bookings and that consumer satisfaction for its Peruvian Amazon cruises remains high.

Delfin did get some calls of concern from travelers as a result of the recent Times article about pirates, “however, it is important to note that the article only covers the area of Manaus in Brazil, an area within Brazilian territory, not in Peru, and thousands of miles away from where Delfin Amazon Cruises operates.”

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Delfin II Cruise vessel

In some ways, it’s not too surprising that Amazon river cruise bookings remain strong despite any perceived health or safety threats. Amazon river cruisers are a hardy bunch. The world’s largest jungle on its own evokes a level of exoticism and adventure that inevitably invites a more craggy traveler.

And it’s not as though Amazon operators have been resting on their laurels. Many have come out and proactively communicated with guests about any additional safety and security measures they have implemented on their vessels in light of concerns about piracy both on the Peruvian as well as the Brazilian stretch of the river, ranging from high-tech security systems to additional manpower onboard.

And when it comes to health, Amazon operators had been in the habit of advising guests to take any necessary or recommended health precautions and vaccines long before Zika became an issue.

Ultimately, they benefit not just from the built-in resolve of Amazon river cruisers, but also from the allure of the destination itself, the rich flora and fauna for which it is known and the unique communities that reside along the river’s banks. For anyone who has been on an Amazon river cruise, it’s not uncommon for the experience to quickly fall into the “trip of a lifetime” category. And for many, that means no amount of pirates or mosquitos are going to stop them from being able to cross the experience off their wish list.

Aqua Expeditions to upgrade both Amazon vessels

Luxury river operator Aqua Expeditions has announced that it will be renovating its two Peruvian Amazon vessels, the Aqua Amazon and the Aria Amazon. The upgrades are being overseen by the boats’ original designer, Peruvian architect Jordi Puig.

The vessels’ exteriors will be outfitted with new woodwork, a fresh coat of paint and new awnings. New wood flooring has been installed throughout most common areas. Additionally, all the suites are being redone with new floors, furniture and amenities, and the bathrooms with new floors and tiles. Both vessels feature newly upholstered furniture, new wall coverings and lighting. New skiffs have also been added on each vessel that seat up to 10 passengers.

Aqua Expeditions was founded eight years ago when it launched the 12-suite Aqua Amazon, which was followed by the 16-suite Aria Amazon. In October 2014, Aqua Expeditions launched a third luxury river cruise vessel, the 20-suite Aqua Mekong, on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.

Celebrity to offer high-end cruise tours

By Tom Stieghorst
Celebrity Cruises plans to launch regular high-end cruise tours, with the first three set to be offered in 2015.

The product will be known as Celebrity Explorations. Travel agents will earn commission on the land portion at the same rate as their cruise commission, said Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity’s senior vice president of sales and trade support and services.

“We are always trying think of things that our travel partners will like and embrace,” Ritzenthaler said, while at the same time being popular with cruise customers.

A cruise tour that combines a three-night stay and city tour in Sydney with a Celebrity Solstice cruise from Australia will kick off the new venture in January.

In August, Celebrity will begin offering a five-night African safari that will end with a cruise on one of several itineraries from Southampton, England.

Finally, in December, Celebrity will begin offering a river/ocean cruise combination that includes a four-night voyage on the Amazon River and a longer Celebrity Infinity cruise in South America.

Ritzenthaler said there will be other cruise tours developed as time goes by. “The strategy is we’ll continue to give our travel partners and guests Celebrity Explorations on an ongoing basis, so it’s not a one-time deal,” she said.

Celebrity earlier this year promoted a five-night African safari with a Black Sea cruise with departures this fall as part of a pilot program for the new offerings.