Lindblad Expeditions CEO Dolf Berle on the company's tours expansion

Lindblad Expeditions Holdings recently acquired an 80% stake in escorted tour operator Classic Journeys, its third acquisition this year, along with DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co. and Off the Beaten Path in March. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke with Dolf Berle, CEO of Lindblad since May, about what these moves mean for the company.

Q: Why did Lindblad choose these tour operators?

A: We see great opportunity in developing a company comprised of best-in-class, premium operators that span the adventure and cultural itineraries that so many guests enjoy. We believe there are such subscale operators that would enjoy being part of the Lindblad family and who could benefit greatly from the combined guest lists, cross-marketing and the technology that we can bring over time, because we have greater scale and can invest in things like digital transformation.

Natural Habitat Adventures (Nat-Hab) has been a great growth story ever since it joined Lindblad in 2016. In the great words of company chairman Sven Lindblad, our guests are omnivorous. Over the course of their lives, they enjoy traveling by ship, sometimes hiking, in some cases cycling, and they do a number of other fascinating things across the world. We’re finding that there’s great opportunity to cross-market. The growth of Nat-Hab has been due to a number of things, but one is via the use of the much larger Lindblad Expeditions guest database. And that also comes back the other way: some number of people that had land excursions with Nat-Hab have come to Lindblad.

Q: Classic is less adventure-focused than those operators. Is this a move into cultural immersion?

A: Classic Journeys is a slightly different niche than each of these other companies, and that was the reason we were excited to buy them. They call themselves a walking tour business. This is not hiking per se: These are fascinating, lower-mileage walks in remarkable places in the world, many in Europe, but also in India and in Africa. Their experiences focus on immersing guests in the history and culture of those places. They complement that with luxury, boutique accommodations and handcrafted itineraries they’ve curated over the years with various kinds of unique access. Founders Edward and Susie Piegza literally went to all of the places where they have tours and immersed themselves in the local surroundings and got to know the people, places, accommodations and restaurants really, really well. So if you take a walking tour with them, you have the benefit of that and also local guides that make sure that you have a great experience. That’s their formula.

Q: Does this expand your customer base or complement it? And will marketing mention the affiliations?

A: Both. It’s a really nice array of companies that serve a number of different types of guest experiences, but all rooted in the notion of exploration and discovery and being comfortable in terms of the accommodations, food and care we’re able to give guests.

It is our intention to maintain these individual and separate wonderful brands. Our strategy is to keep the founders in place and working. But over time we will develop more of an umbrella brand approach that is under the Lindblad family of companies.

Q: Will you eventually offer cruise-tours with these companies?

A: The opportunity for extensions is very clearly in our future. That’s just something that we need to do more work to get organized around. We are essentially working through the first phase of onboarding the acquisitions. I think in the next phase we’ll work on that. That’s something that our guests will ask for, I’m sure.

Related: Lindblad Expeditions is looking to expand its fleet

Q: You’ve expanded during the pandemic, while so many contracted. How?

A: This strategy is one that has been worked on for some time, and as a result, the balance sheet for the company is one that was orchestrated to allow for growth of this type. Thankfully, we also had a very solid Alaska season with our ships. And the land companies have been doing well, particularly for anything that’s domestic tour-based. So we’ve been able to make these acquisitions and do it in a way that was financially responsible.

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