How an International Expedition is Brought to Life
Product Development Manager Casimah Khalik unveils what goes into making an extraordinary expedition experience in the Small Islands of the Indian Ocean
Have you ever wondered how our team create a new voyage from start to finish? We sat down to chat with Casimah Khalik, one of our experienced Product Development Managers, to get some insight into the process of creating a brand-new itinerary, namely, our Small Islands of the Indian Ocean voyage ‘Island Traditions to the Edge of Africa’.
For some background knowledge, there are three core elements to Casimah’s role: product development, product management and product administration. The development stage takes place during the lead up to embarkation, management occurs while the ship is sailing and administration is about managing budgeting and incurred costs.
‘In the product team we are like an octopus,’ says Casimah, ‘there are so many things to consider when creating a Coral Expeditions itinerary. The process involves all departments including the hospitality, marine and purchasing teams.’
To kickstart the process, the product team work directly with senior management to determine where Coral Expeditions want to venture to next. The product team then set off on the task of building a unique expeditionary experience.
‘First I check all the locations and calculate time and distance.’ This means plotting out the course of the voyage on the map and figuring out how far we are travelling and how long it is going to take the ship to cover the distance. ‘The formula fundamentally operates on the premise that the ship will be sailing during the night and daytime is designated exploration time on land.’ Meaning our guests can enjoy the adventure of waking up to a new destination every day. With itineraries being planned down to the smallest details, our product team even go to the effort of calculating to arrive on a specific side of an island to view a sunset with no visual obstacles.
‘Everything I do goes back to what I think a guest would appreciate. It is important to distinguish that we are not a traditional cruise ship. What really sets us apart is the fact that we aim to educate. We want our guests to leave our itineraries well informed and to be the new specialists of the areas they’ve visited. So, on shore and on board, it’s all about education and storyline. When I design and itinerary, this stays at the forefront of my mind.’
Always keeping in mind the capabilities of the ship, the time and distance calculations are then passed on the marine team who will crosscheck and offer any advice from a seafarer’s perspective. For example, the marine team may advise that we can travel at a comfortable speed of 10 knots and take additional factors into account such as wind and currents and the impacts these may have on the ship’s movements.
Additionally, this information is made available to our international Port Agents and Shore Excursion Agents for further insight. Throughout the planning of our Indian Ocean itineraries, Casimah works closely with these agents, and facilitates all parties working together collaboratively. ‘The first thing I do is educate the agents about Coral Expeditions and our unique style of cruising – and that we want to go to the unseen, remote places!’ With the associated time differences, Casimah often finds herself working in many time zones on a daily basis from our head office in Cairns to liaise with our international agents. What ensues is a conversation about possible excursions and modifying them to suit our experience.
Once the ship departs, the Master and Bridge Team and Expedition Leader are responsible to ensure that the distances to travel, tides and weather conditions are aligned to maximise the expedition experience. Casimah explains, ‘We go to places people don’t usually go, for that reason, things can change. It’s all part of the expedition experience.’
Approaching the Small Islands of the Indian Ocean series, Casimah likens her development process to ‘finding a thread that connects everything together.’ This approach is also featured in the way she briefs our Guest Lecturers and Expedition Leaders when organising the on board programs.
‘Especially, the Island Traditions to the Edge of Africa voyage that sails from Singapore to the Seychelles is unique in that it ties back to the history of Australia. Australia was discovered while people were searching for spices during the 1500s. There is a lot of trade history in the Indian Ocean with the Portuguese, Dutch and British being some of the key players. The route from Singapore to Madagascar is the route that most traders used. In this way, I enjoy connecting the intricacies of the voyage back to our Australian roots.’
To be able to create our unique style of itinerary, our product development team have to be passionate about the content. Casimah says, ‘I’m fascinated by culture and history. We’re tracing the voyages of Ibn Battutah and Zheng He – this is historical stuff! I think the guests will be pleasantly surprised at the new knowledge they will acquire on these voyages.’ For example, we will trace the ‘cinnamon route’ that spans from Singapore to Madagascar, and with Sri Lanka being renowned for producing some of the best cinnamon in the world, we will be visiting a plantation on our visit.
Despite all the incredible technology that allows us to organise expeditions remotely, nothing substitutes being able to assess our experience in person. In preparation for this voyage, Casimah plans on travelling to Sri Lanka in July. On this trip, she will be making sure that everything is on track for a great expedition experience. From checking where we plan to visit, the vehicles we plan to use, surveying the roads and identifying solutions for possibly congested areas ahead of time, she will be able to assure the safety and practicality of the planned itinerary.
‘Product development is not static – it is fluid and everchanging.’ In collaboration with our Hospitality Team and daily reports received by Expedition Leaders on board, we can continue to learn and improve our itineraries.
Given that Coral Expeditions’ voyages are all-inclusive, the administration aspect of the development process is crucial. This encompasses aspects including access fees to natural areas such as Yala National Park, land transfers and currency exchange. For example, on this voyage alone, between Singapore and the Seychelles there are six currencies to take into account. For our international itineraries, our team even go to the length of organising for an Immigration Agent to handle matters on board so that guests can begin exploring right from the moment we arrive at international shores.
‘For this voyage we are going to be at these destinations at an amazing time of year weather wise. Additionally, there is so much to do while we are sailing, with three Guest Lecturers on board, there is so much information to be shared along the way. I am excited for guests to experience this voyage.’
For more information about our ‘Island Traditions to the Edge of Africa’ voyage, click here.