Innovation, Experiences Drive Shore Excursion Market

Today's tours acknowledge the importance of social media
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By Gerry Barker

Photos Courtesy of Global Cruises

Some may remember the 1969 romantic comedy, “If This is Tuesday, This Must be Belgium,” about a group of American tourists on a bus tour of Europe. Like just about everything, tours have changed a lot since then.

Today’s traveler wants to get up close and personal with ports of call, looking for everything from wildlife watching in Antarctica to taking a boat into the Amazon back waters and sharing a meal with a local family in Italy, it’s as much about the experience as the trip.

Leyla Osorio, CEO of Global Cruises

Someone who knows that well is Leyla Osorio, CEO and co-founder of Global Cruises, a Miami-based leader in offering immersive shore excursions since 2008. With regional offices in Cozumel and Cartagena, her team of some 150 employees and 550-plus shore staff currently serve over 100 ports worldwide and host half a million passengers yearly with 500 different excursions.

Recently, Ms. Osorio took time out for an interview about her company and a look into what’s ahead for the shore excursion business:

Q. How did you get your start in the tour business and what motivated you to pursue that as a career?

A. In 2008, my unexpected entry into the shore excursion business began with a transformative visit to Barcelona, where the concept of a double-decker, Hop-on Hop-off bus tour sparked my passion. At that time, my experience was specific to the public and government sectors. But, motivated by this adventure, my passion for the industry started to grow.

I was enchanted and wanted to truly showcase destinations in a special way. The question, “Why don’t we have this type of service in Cartagena or Miami?” sparked something in me and my husband, so we founded a tourism company to answer it. That effort evolved into what is today Global Cruises.

Overcoming challenges in building buses from scratch and navigating regulatory complexities in Cartagena and Miami provided invaluable experiences that inform our approach to this very day. Despite initial setbacks and fierce competition, our commitment to efficiency and creativity led to significant market capture, expanding our services to more than 100 destinations by 2023.

“We have noticed the growing demand for tailor-made excursions in every port of call.”

Q. Today, tours are front and center for cruise line passengers who value experiences that are both cultural and personal. What do you think are the key factors driving this expanded interest in tours?

A. Each day there are more passengers that prefer to travel with cruise lines. As those numbers grow, so do shore excursion numbers. Season by season, we meet and exceed records; we have noticed the growing demand for tailor-made excursions in every port of call. I also want to add that passengers today no longer seek traditional sightseeing but crave authentic interactions with local cultures, making tours a pivotal component of their cruise experience.

Q. As cruise lines deploy more ships, they want to have a competitive advantage in tours as well, since port experiences are so important to overall cruise vacations. Are you seeing a demand from your cruise line clients for more “out-of-the-box,” immersive excursions?

A. Absolutely, the demand for “out-of-the-box” and immersive excursions is rising among our cruise line clientele. As cruise lines deploy more ships, they recognize the crucial role that port experiences play in enhancing overall cruise vacations. There’s a discernible shift towards offering unique and personalized tours that go beyond conventional sightseeing. Passengers are increasingly seeking immersive experiences that allow them to connect with the destination on a deeper level.

“The demand for ‘out-of-the-box’ and immersive excursions is rising.”

This is why Global Cruises’ approach is focused on innovation and showcasing tried and true destinations in a new way. We’ve curated our diverse array of collections, from the best-seller Selfie Tours, which combine trends and the best of each destination, to the innovative Backstage Tours, which allow passengers to see ports with a new lens focused on hidden locations.

It’s also worth noting that there is also a clear trend towards catering to the independent traveler who values autonomy in crafting their vacation experience. By responding to this demand and providing a diverse array of innovative, immersive excursions, we aim to give our cruise line clients a competitive edge in the evolving landscape of cruise vacations.

Q. We know the importance of sustainability and “going green,” along with the idea of “giving back” to the countries and areas visited. On one of our Crystal cruises, we volunteered to work at a Donkey Rescue on Antigua. Is this a trend you’re seeing?

A. Certainly, sustainability and responsible tourism are increasingly vital considerations in the cruise industry. At Global Cruises we have a very clear commitment to lead and support transformational changes through sustainable ecotourism. We know the future of global travel is sustainability. That’s why we’re committed to a new kind of immersion. A type of immersion that brings local communities and travelers together to create a sustainable future, while promoting the region’s rich biodiversity and cultural heritage.

To that end, we have developed more than 36 sustainable experiences throughout the Caribbean, reiterating our commitment to generating a positive impact on cruise lines, cruise guests, destinations, communities and the environment. We have immersive experiences such as our “Fisherman for a Day in Cartagena,” which allows guests to experience and preserve the traditional fishing methods of this community. We also have our “Hunting the Hunters” Lionfish experience, which tackles the proliferation of this invasive species in Caribbean waters.

“Our Selfie Tour is now present in more than 80 destinations in all regions.”

Q. You have a “Selfie Tour” that underscores the importance of social media in our lives. How successful has that been?

A. The Selfie Tour has proven to be exceptionally successful, evolving into an industry bestseller. Recognizing the dynamic nature of trends and the increasing significance of social media in travelers’ lives, we responded to the demand for a unique and modern experience. This sightseeing tour seamlessly blends adventure, photography and social media, offering a contemporary twist on culture and history.

Our Selfie Tour is now present in more than 80 destinations in all regions. It’s important to keep track of industry and world trends to meet the evolving preferences of modern travelers and provide innovative and engaging experiences that resonate across diverse global markets.

Q. Please tell us about the ways Global Cruises is utilizing technology in your tours, and where do you see that going in the future.

“Looking ahead, we are developing new experiences that incorporate more advanced technologies.”

A. Global Cruises is at the forefront of integrating technology into our tours, leveraging it not only as a trend but also as a value-added component to enhance our guest experiences. Currently, we have embraced 3D augmented reality experiences, providing a cutting-edge layer to our tours. This technology offers an immersive and interactive dimension, bringing destinations to life in a new way.

Looking ahead, we are actively developing new experiences that incorporate even more advanced technologies. Our vision involves further integrating augmented reality, virtual reality and other innovative tools to create tours that are not only entertaining and educational but also push the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of travel and tourism.

New technologies allow us to time travel and experience far away locations, using technology to recreate legendary historic events and buildings, films, books and more. As technology continues to advance, we foresee a future where our tours seamlessly blend the physical and digital worlds, offering guests unprecedented levels of immersion and personalization.

“Our mandate is to continually reinvent — to maintain the interest and excitement of repeat passengers”

Q. What are the biggest challenges facing the cruise industry, and specifically, the tour segment, that keeps you up at night?

A. Currently there is a trend of travelers that want to explore on their own and be more independent, facilitated by new technologies, which has resulted in a decreased reliance on pre-established tours. These guests favor solo exploration and want experiences that fully cater to them and their needs. I think this is not so much a challenge but a trend, one we’re adapting to by offering options that speak to independent travelers. This allows us to innovate and provide experiences that align with this growing preference.

Another piece to consider is that many of our passengers are repeat customers who are familiar with certain itineraries and destinations. The element of innovation needs to pivot and showcase a new facet each time passengers visit by giving them new lenses through which they can look at these destinations.

Our mandate is to continually reinvent and present fresh perspectives to maintain the interest and excitement of repeat passengers, turning what might be a challenge into an opportunity for creativity and adaptation.

“I see us even more committed to offering diverse
and compelling cruise experiences to a wider audience.”

Q. Your company has expanded rapidly and enjoyed success. Look into your crystal ball and talk about where you see the industry going and what are some of the new initiatives we’ll see from Global Cruises in the future.

A. Short term, I envision Global Cruises reinforcing itself as a major provider of experiences, fully solidifying its presence in the Caribbean and European regions while expanding to new markets such as New England, Canada and Asia. I see us even more committed to offering diverse and compelling cruise experiences to a wider audience.

Looking further ahead, I see Global Cruises evolving beyond our core of tour operations permeating other spheres of the industry and meeting the ever-evolving needs of cruise passengers while capitalizing on this growing market. With our extensive logistics network, we have the potential to not only offer our current experiences, land programs and transportation solutions, but also cater to a broader range of services that are needed within the industry.


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