Hayley Shephard is Director of Expedition Operations at Polar Latitudes, a polar expedition company that provides travelers to Antarctica with a “best in class” experience by working with the best guides, naturalists, and expedition crew members. Their polar vessels include Hebridean Sky & Island Sky which possess a level of comfort and safety unmatched in polar waters. Here Hayley answers a few questions from our team.
Q: You were Silver Medalist in the prestigious Wanderlust World Guide Awards in 2017, which is an incredible achievement. In your opinion, what makes a great guide?
A: To be a good guide we need to be client focused and genuinely interested in who our guests are. This means being an active listener, to have empathy and compassion and in general care about their comfort and well-being as well as helping make their trip of a lifetime (like coming to Antarctica) come true. It is important that guests feel safe when in our care, therefore as a guide we need to be competent and confident in all what we do, no matter what the environment or situation. We need to be knowledgeable and at the same time, be able to share information with our guests in a way that shows our genuine passion for the area and wildlife. A great guide has concern for the environment, and they answer questions as though it is the first time they have been asked that question. Finally, a good sense of humour goes a long way.
Why should people visit Antarctica sooner than later?
The tourism industry in Antarctica is growing rather rapidly; more people on bigger ships putting additional pressure on the land and wildlife. We as an industry are regulating ourselves and our activities to lessen the pressure but still, it is forever changing. After taking a voyage to Antarctica, it is important that people leave with more than just a tick off their bucket list. It is there duty to see Antarctica for themselves, and by default become an Ambassador and be the voice this fragile and treasured Continent deserves. The sooner the better, as Antarctica needs more voices.
For many people, the possibility to partake in a trip to Antarctica is a “dream come true”. What does Polar Latitudes do to ensure these high expectations are fulfilled?
PL are one of the few companies who still operate a smaller ship 100 to 110 passengers. This enables us to spend more time soaking in the beauty of a variety of locations where we walk amongst the penguins and zodiac cruise around ice floes where seals snooze and whales forage.
We only hire true professionals, who ultimately are there to show you the best Antarctica has to offer but at the same time doing so while also caring for the environment. We genuinely get a kick out of seeing our guests transform when their breath is taken away by the splendour and beauty of the frozen landscape. We want you to be changed after your journey with us to Antarctica.
There are a number of operators in the market now. How difficult is it for Polar Latitudes to differentiate themselves as a company?
I have worked for a number of different companies and to be honest, from my perspective we are one of the best. We are not in the travel business we are in the people business which means we care about our guests and go that extra mile to make sure they are having a trip of a lifetime.
Even though all our staff are customer oriented and are there for the needs of our guests, we have a staff person completely dedicated to the care and attention of our guests; the Passenger Service Manager.
We are one of the very first companies to initiate a Citizen Science program which enables passengers to take part in actual science and assisting real scientists. It is rewarding for passengers to be so hands on and feel like they have contributed.
Also, as a company we are a member of the Polar Tourism Guide Association which we utilize and have access to training and assessment, therefore we are operating at the highest level of industry standard in skills and knowledge.
What is your favourite Polar Latitudes itinerary and why?
I love all of our itineraries because they are all unique in their own special way. The Falkland-South-Georgia-Antarctica itinerary offers such a variety of landscapes and wildlife which are so different from the other. The abundance of wildlife in South Georgia is absolutely unbelievable.
The Whale Science voyage gives passengers an opportunity to experience the Antarctica Peninsula in depth, spending as much time as possible with some of the largest animals on the planet. People have the opportunity to observe some of the most renowned whale experts in action, in addition to assisting them with some of their data gathering. It is truly unique. Last season, the BBC took an interest in this voyage as well, filming for the series BBC BLUE PLANET LIVE.