Explorer Ben Fogle on taking his Celebrity Cruises adventure series to the cutting Edge
Ben Fogle tells Tempus about his Great Adventures series at the European Launch of Celebrity Edge
As one of Britain's best-known explorers, and a self-described journeyman with 30 years of world travel experience, Ben Fogle is the man to go to when it comes to finding the experiential travel options to suit any individual. Tempus took the time to sit down with Fogle at the European launch of Celebrity Cruises' innovative new cruise liner, Celebrity Edge.
With ground-breaking interior design by Kelly Hoppen and a myriad of technological advancements making it the most eco-friendly ship in the Celebrity fleet, Edge is the brand's most luxurious ship yet. To add to the magic, Fogle has put together a wealth of new experiences to delight all those who sail in her – and many feature collaborations with local people.
"I think moving forward over the next few years, tourism is going to be a lot more focused on wanting to connect to local people," said Fogle. "Celebrity Cruises has amazing access to people in all of these locations that they go to, so our 'fixers' go by word of mouth to find local individuals and businesses who can help supply our experience. I also have a big travel portfolio – I've been to 130-odd countries and territories, and so I've got a lot of local friends and contacts on the ground.
"The more that we start to invest within local communities and come up with journeys that they can be involved with, the more we can reduce potential conflicts and impact from the cruise industry. We're not just a ship that pulls into port, 3,000 people spill out and a couple of individual travel companies make all the money. We want to invest money locally."
Fogle has been the global destinations ambassador for Celebrity Cruises for the last five years, but until his partnership with them had never been on a cruise ship.
"At the time, I didn't know a huge amount about the cruise industry, but after little bit of research I saw that they were focusing so much on the ship – the entertainment, the food, the luxury you have on board – but that it was often to the detriment of the incredible destinations [being visited]," he said. "Celebrity Cruises is a very innovative company, you only have to look at this ship [Celebrity Edge], and they wanted to focus more closely at these destinations. >>
"What excited me the most about coming aboard for the very first time was the fact that we could go to a different city every single day, this opportunity to actually keep moving but also be super-efficient with your time," he said. "My role was to look at the incredible destinations, whether that's Alaska, Santorini, the Galapagos Islands, and to come up with a 'Fogle-isation' on the traditional tourist options – how can we make visiting these places a little more interesting?"
The Great Adventures series now caters for all levels of activity – from soft-water rafting in Rome to hiking volcanoes in St Kitts or fjord snorkelling in Norway – but, given his penchant for adventurous travel, Fogle admits he may have been a little too ambitious to begin with. "You can imagine some of my first suggestions to them," he laughed. "But soon we started to curate what I think were some quite exciting options, particularly for families, couples or units. This was I've got young children. I love this idea that you can experience these things together as a family or a couple and that you can have a real experience."
Fogle says experiential travel is more than just visiting somewhere new, and believes it is a rising trend in all areas of travel, with luxury leading the way. "Experiential travel is the ability to feel like you're getting more than a photograph or lying on a beach. It's going to a destination and feeling like you're taking a bit of it away with you. You leave with stories to tell," he says.
"Over the years I can tell you that my own travel portfolio began with very simple journeys, where I'd go on a big hike somewhere. That soon escalated to rowing across oceans, trekking to the South Pole and, exactly a year ago, climbing to the summit of Mount Everest," he says. "I think people are quite surprised that for someone who voluntarily climbed 8,848m to one of the most dangerous, inhospitable, miserable places on the planet is now enjoying a cruise at sea level.
"It's a very different form of travel. Immersive travel often involves putting down your roots and spending a lot of time in one place, but with cruise travel you're trying to get an authentic experience in a fairly short amount of time. It's quite an exciting alternative to the traditional holiday model, but it was also one of the biggest challenges I had, curating a number of shore excursions that could give people a real feel of the community in a very short amount of time. One option we have is food – in Sicily you can join a local family and learn to make a traditional meal, which is a great one for families, or you go out in a fast rib in Sweden and have a picnic with local people on different islands." >>
Another element that delights Fogle is Celebrity Edge's environmental innovation and ethos.
"I pick who I work with very carefully," said Fogle. "I'm a great environmentalist, particularly because I travel far too much and want to offset my air travel. You only have to look at Celebrity Cruise's environmental track record – it's extraordinary. They were one of the first cruise lines to ban plastic straws and now Edge is no longer using plastic bottles despite the cost; they're limiting the amount of waste on board and recycling as much as possible; new technology means they are highly energy efficient. This is the kind of company I want to work with.
"You only need to look at the CEO, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, to see how the brand is advocating for women – we've got the first female officers and captains – and that's very important to me, as a father of a daughter. I want my children to have women in all kinds of businesses to aspire to," he said. "There's something very beautiful about the kind of dedication to social responsibility that Celebrity has put into place. It's very genuine."
For Fogle, it's evident that he has been won over by the slow travel of cruise life. "I really feel part of the team now," he said, before adding: "Though they still think some of my suggestions are ridiculous."