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Behind the scenes in the creation of extraordinary expedition experiences
As the Product Manager I have several responsibilities, most importantly the management of the Product team, where we work to plan, test and implement new itineraries.
Planning expedition itineraries is a complex process. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as choosing an exciting destination! There is a lot of research on ports of call, shore excursions, schedules, signature experiences, air, and land transfers just to list a few factors. Even though it can be difficult, the excitement of creating incredible experiences in special destinations is a passion for us!
As we have quite a few operating itineraries, I am also responsible for the day-by-day delivery of each expedition, ensuring we continue to deliver high-quality experiences. The product team also coordinates and manages recruitment, training, roster management and standards for our Expedition and Dive Team, Guest Lectures and Medical Practitioners.
I love being a part of a team where I can share my love for travel by designing new itineraries to enable our guests to explore new parts of the world. I am passionate about the guest experience and I am proud that we can continue to provide extraordinary experiences for our guests, whether it be for their first time or their tenth time.
I took on the Product Manager role after returning from Maternity Leave, but my experience with Coral Expeditions began many years ago onboard the vessels in the hospitality team. Working my way up over the years has given me a broad understanding of our guests and their needs, as well as deep insights into how our expeditions work and how to make them even better!
I am originally from California but I have lived in Australia and NZ since 2005. I first came to Australia as a backpacker and loved it so decided to stay!
My role involves very interesting things like researching new destinations and excursions activities, as well as mundane things like organising permits and licences and writing operational notes. The team on board must have a good understanding of the theme or background of a voyage, so I work at communicating all the necessary elements to our Expedition team. Essentially, my role is to bring a cruise itinerary from a concept to a plan to execution.
The thing that I love most about my work is that I get to learn every day – about history, culture, new destinations… I am a bit of a map geek so having a job where I get to stare at them all day is a bonus! And who wouldn’t love the expedition famils of course, that is a major perk!
I feel great pride when commended on planning dynamic and varied itineraries/content. No greater feeling than when we get great feedback from our guests – both at the marketing stage when a cruise sells out and after the cruise itself is a success. It’s also personally important to me to include more Indigenous content in our programmes and alternative narratives to give our guests the full spectrum of a destination’s history. And growing our female expedition team!
Some of the challenges we deal with include lots of red tape and paperwork when dealing with different government agencies. It can be confusing and time-consuming. It is also a challenge to make sure a cruise itinerary lives up to expectation – that we deliver something enticing, exciting, but above all else achievable!
I grew up in Malaysia and at 17, went to an American University to further my studies. It was in these early years that the travel bug got a hold of me and travel became an obsession of mine. Over the years I have lived in France, Spain, China, Egypt and Cyprus but I keep returning to Cairns, poorer in coins but far richer in life experiences!
My role involves working closely with the Captains and Expedition leaders in developing possible new itineraries and then putting together the practical execution. It is a collaborative role that also works with the marketing team to look at trends and demand. We must also ensure the logistics of the product is delivered with all necessary approvals, permits and legal requirements. In short, it is about making it up and then making it happen!
We make it our mission to consider and plan every detail so that you have a memorable voyage and it is gratifying to get such great feedback from guests.
When I travel, I love to be immersed in the culture – learning the Tango in Buenos Aires, taking cooking lessons in Hoi An, parading in the street Carnivale of Tenerife, or hiking up the mountain of Torres del Paine in Chile – I aspire to give the same experience to our guests – to bring meaning into their travels! We do that through educational lectures on board, authentic experiences onshore excursions and providing what is required to make the trip a truly memorable one.
The moments from an expedition that you treasure forever might be unplanned. A surprise encounter with a marine mammal while snorkelling, a glimpse of a rare bird in the trees, the child’s hand slipping into yours in a remote village, or the glass-out sunrise at sea.
These moments are unplanned but the lifelong memories created during voyages are the culmination of decades of experience, detailed planning and extensive local knowledge and partnerships. At Coral Expeditions, our passion goes into crafting the ultimate experience for our guests, creating the opportunity for those unplanned moments to sneak in and take your breath away.
“How do you leave guests feeling? What have they learnt? What connections have they made? These are all questions we ask ourselves because we know it determines what they take away from one of our expeditions and helps shape the stories they will tell for life,” says Jeff Gillies, Commercial Director of Coral Expeditions. “Experience is at the heart of the Coral Expeditions culture, and we look at that from two distinct perspectives to deliver an exceptional guest experience – local and technical knowledge and product development.”
One perspective is the experience that we deliver from decades of knowledge and working with partners in destinations. It’s so important to understand local knowledge and conditions, what might be happening with tides, moons, seasonal weather, natural events and even local traditions.
Tailoring the order of where and when we go to places to create the best experience is our job, and we endeavour to do it well! With the help of our captains and expedition team, we are able to be flexible and to adjust to local needs or events and to make the most of unexpected changes for the best experience. We aim to get people into the right place at exactly the right time so that they can see the wonder of nature unfold.
In the Kimberley, the tides dictate several of our experiences – at Horizontal Falls or Montgomery Reef we pay attention to the tides to give each voyage the best possible experience. In remote river systems, tides determine how far we can travel and what we will get to see. In regions of remarkable bio-diversity, we bring an expert in the field or if a region is rich in culture or art, an artist or anthropologist is onboard to share their knowledge.
The second perspective is from product development – looking at how we get beneath the skin of the places and people that we meet and really tell the story, set the mood and create an emotional connection. Our goal is to prepare guests with knowledge and stories of a place, its people and its history before they arrive, creating a deeper connection and perspective.
Like most good things, success comes not by accident but through passion, planning and action.