- How did your career take you to Explora Journeys?
I have been fortunate to spend my entire career within the
hospitality industry including over 28 years in the cruise
industry. Since 2000 my career has been focused on the luxury
Back in 2017 I ran into a long-time friend and former cruise industry co-worker who was now working for MSC Cruises and mentioned that the Aponte-Vago family were considering starting a luxury lifestyle travel brand. It was at that moment that I threw up my hand and voiced I would be honoured to be part of the once in a lifetime opportunity.
In 2019, I joined MSC Cruises based in the US as Brand Performance Manager, supporting their North American based ships and as such, I was heavily involved in the opening of our private island destination, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. During the downturn in our industry due to the pandemic, that same friend contacted me and asked if I was still interested in the new luxury brand, as it was proceeding. My answer was immediately, yes, and last year I was confirmed as the Head of Product for Explora Journeys commencing here in Geneva in November 2021.
- Tell me a little about your role at Explora Journeys? What falls within your remit?
As Head of Product, I oversee the entire onboard Hotel Operation and Guest Experience. As we are operating all onboard experiences in-house this encompasses Food and Beverage, Housekeeping, Guest Services, Entertainment & Enrichment, Spa & Wellness, Retail, Casino, and all other areas of the hotel operations onboard. We are also spending valuable time curating our Hosts (crew) lifestyle onboard that will also include elements of Culinary, Ocean Wellness, Entertainment & Enrichment. The welfare of our Hosts is of prime importance to Explora Journeys.
- EXPLORA I is inspired by the Aponte-Vago family yacht, can you give any examples of how this manifests itself in the design?
From the sleek yacht-like lines of the exterior of EXPLORA I to the amount of open deck space with multiple pools and private cabanas, you immediately have the feeling of being on a yacht. Explora Journeys partnered with the world`s foremost superyacht and hospitality designers, engaging Martin Francis, the accomplished British designer and architect with decades of experience as part of the design team. Together, they have created a stunning yacht-inspired ship, that balances intimacy and vibrancy using modern, cosmopolitan and boutique finishes throughout the décor. The interior is also intricately designed to give that personal home at sea feeling whilst providing ample space, choice and privacy for our guests. We are creating hotel vibe that is intimate whilst maximising the connection with the sea to create an `Ocean State of Mind`.
- What's been the biggest challenge with the Explora I project?
That is an interesting question. At Explora Journeys we see each challenge as an opportunity to be innovative. As we are developing the entire guest experience in house from scratch, we have placed equal importance on each pillar of our guest experience. We want to ensure that every touchpoint, is of the highest calibre, thoroughly thought out and meticulously planned. Launching a new luxury brand in a competitive environment, requires us all to come together to position our brand firmly in the market.
- And what's been most exciting aspect of the project?
The most exciting aspect of the project to date has been attracting and assembling a team of luxury industry professionals who instantly connected with our vision for Explora Journeys. Many of the team I have been fortunate to have worked with prior at other luxury brands, so I not only witnessed their professional experience, I also knew them as friends. I am proud to say that it is my belief we have the best Operations and Product team in the industry. For example, we appointed Franck Garanger as Head of Culinary and he is building a world class culinary team to create the concepts for six distinct restaurants, our in-suite dining experience, 12 bars and lounges and an immersive Chef`s Kitchen experience. Also joining his team are Alban Gjorka, Senior Lead Culinary Operations, Thibaut Briançon, Senior Lead Food & Beverage Services. Leading our Ocean Wellness experience, we are thrilled to be working with Julanda Marais as Senior Lead, Spa Operations and Drew Gowland who is heading our Entertainment & Enrichment programme. Stay tuned for more information as we unveil these concepts in the coming weeks. Each team member complements the other. I genuinely enjoy watching all of us interact and see the progress we are making together as a unified team, who have embarked on a once-in-a lifetime career journey.
- Is there an area/aspect of the ship you're most looking forward to seeing complete?
That is like asking a parent which is your favourite child, it is cliché to say but I am looking forward to seeing all areas come to fruition. In particular our Ocean Wellness, Culinary & Beverage and our Entertainment & Enrichment programmes. One of the aspects that I am most excited about is our internal "Art of Hosting." As an experienced leadership team, we took all the pain points of modern luxury travel and cruising and found ways to either remove them or change them into positive experiences. We are all personally involved in the recruitment of our onboard team and feeling like a parent, I am so proud of the family we are building. We all have guest centricity in our DNA. Our guests will immediately feel this when they step onboard EXPLORA I when she sets sail on her maiden journey next May.
- As a result of the recent announcement that EXPLORA III and IV will be Hybrid LNG powered, apart from the fuel, will there be any other differences between the ships?
With the different fuel option on EXPLORA III and IV, this created some spacing opportunities and we have taken advantage of this to look at adding additional Food and Beverage areas and, we have also moved some of the current venues locations to enhance different onboard experiences. We have also listened to our Travel Advisors who are a valuable resource in providing feedback and we have modified our inventory to include more of our Ocean Penthouse and Ocean Residence accommodation.
- How's EXPLORA II coming along?
Very well, it is so exciting to have two ships under construction and we remain firmly on track with our schedule. EXPLORA II is quite advanced in its construction at Fincantieri's shipyard near Genoa, Italy. We celebrated her Steel cutting in October last year and the Keel laying in May this year. We remain on track for her Coin Ceremony early next year and her Float Out ceremony next summer.
- And finally, what's on your holiday hit list? Any exciting destinations or bucket list trips coming up?
I feel blessed that I have had a career that has allowed me to travel to 6 of the 7 continents and to personally experience such diverse cultures and sights. My first response, now that I am based in Geneva, is to go home to Perth, Australia to see my daughter and my friends. I just love the laid-back lifestyle that Australia offers. My biggest goal at this stage of my life is visiting family and friends. As I spent many years at sea, I missed a lot of those special moments families and friends enjoy and now it is my priority to ensure I am present for them. Recently I visited the Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo which was a bucket list trip, and I was not disappointed. The feeling of being immersed in the multiple nation's bands, the impact the background of Edinburgh Castle brings is one that just must be experienced in person. The entire trip including the pre-Tattoo dinner with traditional Haggis, was more than I had expected or anticipated. My top bucket list destination in the near future apart from Antarctica (to allow me to claim I have visited all 7 continents) is to travel to Greenland during the period of 24 hours of sunlight and discover one of the world`s largest polar ice caps. I am excited that EXPLORA I will be sailing to both of these destinations next year, as part of her inaugural journey collection with the inaugural United Kingdom and Iceland & Greenland Journeys.