TravelPulse One on One: Dunn On a New Luxury Option in the Galapagos
Exploration of the Galapagos Islands has assumed a whole new character in recent years. Previously travelers visiting the islands embarked on safe, functional but not necessarily luxurious vessels designed primarily to support guests’ observation of the unique natural surroundings.
Modern creature comforts, on the other hand, were normally few and far between. That has all changed due to companies like Ecoventura, which launched MV Origin, a new premium Galapagos mega-yacht, on February 28.
The new ship features facilities, amenities and services designed for discerning travelers, from locally inspired gourmet cuisine to a Jacuzzi and fitness center plus connecting and triple staterooms. The yacht is also designed to be among the Galapagos’ most environmentally friendly vessels, using 30 percent less fossil fuel compared with similar Galapagos yachts according to Santiago Dunn, the company’s executive president.
We spoke recently with Dunn to obtain his views on contemporary Galapagos cruising and his company’s service in this growing travel segment.
TravelPulse: Your company is promoted as a leader in “sustainable cruising through the Galapagos Islands.” What is sustainable about your operation and why is this important to travelers in the Galapagos Islands?
Santiago Dunn: Conservation is a responsibility that should be a commitment from all of us on this planet, especially in the Galapagos where the ecosystem is so delicate. From the start, this has been a priority for Ecoventura. For one, we are partners with the World Wildlife Fund with whom we established the Galapagos Marine Biodiversity Fund, which finances eco-related projects in the Galapagos and grants scholarships to local initiatives.
We were also the first company to earn the Smart Voyager certification, and in 2008 the M/Y Eric became the first hybrid energy tour boat in the Galapagos. When conceptualizing the new MV Origin, we knew we wanted to keep our stance as a leader in sustainability, and today she is one of the most environmentally friendly vessels in the Galapagos, reducing fossil fuel consumption by 30 percent from similar yachts. Travelers value this because it’s these initiatives that keep our islands pristine and make the Galapagos a destination and experience unlike any other in the world.
TP: There are many small-ship companies now operating vessels in the Galapagos Islands, and even some small ships operated by large cruise companies. How does Ecoventura’s experience differ from those of other companies?
SD: Ecoventura’s fleet, including the new MV Origin, offers the most favorable passenger-to-guide ratio in the Galapagos with just 10 passengers per guide. This allows for a more intimate, tailored experience where all guests - no matter their age or fitness level - can feel comfortable exploring at their own pace. It’s where luxury meets flexibility. (The National Park’s limit is 16 guests per guide, and is the ratio most other ships in the archipelago offer.) Origin also offers one of the most favorable passenger-to-crew ratios in this small cruise segment, with 13 crew members.
The family and multi-gen travel experience is also taken to the next level aboard Ecoventura’s fleet. We offer designated family departures throughout the year that are geared towards those who prefer to travel with families that have similar aged children. On the new Origin, we took it a step further by adding triples with connecting double cabins, which is uncommon for small yachts and a great feature for multi-generational family trips.
TP: What makes the MV Origin “the one and only vessel of its kind?”
SD: In addition to our favorable crew- and passenger-to-guide ratio, Origin is much larger in size than most small yachts, but still accommodates 20 passengers. It is 50 percent more spacious than our existing fleet, with a 30 percent faster cruising speed, which means less time sailing and more time on land. Amenities available on Origin include open bar policy, Apple TV with pre-loaded movies, satellite phone, and WiFi. We also have a Jacuzzi and a fitness center on board -making it the only vessel in its category with a fitness room.
TP: Why has Galapagos travel become so popular in recent years?
SD: Galapagos has always been a popular bucket-list destination. The history of its conservation on behalf of authorities and operators have allowed the islands to remain as pristine as they were back in 1536 when the first recorded visitor, the Bishop of Panama, landed here by chance. Its model is followed by other national parks around the world because of its effectiveness in preserving the ecosystem, making it an ever-attractive destination that reinforces the desire to travel.
In recent years, the rise of small, luxury yacht products, such as Origin, has added another dimension, making the experience more intimate and really showing how remote and pristine the archipelago is. This is drawing in those discerning travelers who value adventure as much as they do comfort and luxury.
TP: What is the profile of a traveler who visits the Galapagos today?
SD: The Galapagos is and has always been a destination for all ages, but in the last five to seven years, we have seen more and more families and multi-gen travelers, hence our decision to offer triples and connecting cabins on Origin. In general, those heading to the Galapagos are well-traveled adventure-seekers, looking for an authentic, unique experience.
TP: What is the best time of year to visit the Galapagos?
SD: Galapagos is truly a year-round destination, as there is no off-season. Because the archipelago is located right on the equator, the air and water temperatures (and the abundance of wildlife) don’t vary by much and are pleasant year-round. Peak times for us usually coincide with times when most consumers tend to travel — holidays and school breaks.
TP: Do most of your guests combine their Galapagos trips with travel to other parts of South America and/or Ecuador?
Visiting the capital city of Quito is a must if you are coming to Galapagos. It’s a beautiful, historic city with colonial-era buildings and churches, situated high in the peaks of the Andes. Guests usually fly in to Quito and spend a few days there before heading to Galapagos. Those who have time will either extend their stay to visit the rainforest jungle in Ecuador or head south to Peru, especially to Machu Picchu and Cusco.
TP: Is the number of U.S. travelers to the Galapagos increasing annually? What do you believe is the main appeal of the region to U.S. travelers?
SD: The U.S. has always been our biggest source market. The ease of travel is very appealing to Americans, with a lot of major cities offering direct flights to Quito and/or Guayaquil — New York, Miami, Dallas — and Central America offering easy connections. I think the region is increasingly being recognized as a safe, welcoming place to travel, with its warm people and wealth of culture.
TP: Any additional plans for 2016-17?
SD: With Origin officially on the water, we may just start thinking about building her a little sister.
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