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Transformational Travel: Q&A with White Desert Chief Marketing Officer

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Murielle Vegezzi

Destination Expert

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Murielle Vegezzi

Author: Murielle Vegezzi - 24 June 2024

Last Update: 14 June 2024

In this Q&A series, Discover Africa Safaris delves into the rising interest in transformational travel.

In this interview with Antarctic expedition specialists White Desert’s Chief Marketing Officer Mindy Roberts we examine how White Desert integrates sustainability into its operations, among other pressing topics in adventure travel.

The adventure travel landscape has significantly evolved in recent years, reflecting broader shifts in traveler demographics and desires. White Desert has observed a noticeable trend where younger travelers are prioritizing unique experiences and memories now rather than postponing such adventures for their retirement years.

As Roberts points out, the travel company known for its expeditions to the Antarctic is witnessing a change in its clientele. More families with teenagers or young adults are now opting for these trips, creating unforgettable memories before their children transition to the next phase of their lives, such as college or university. 

Robert’s 20+ year career has spanned three continents, beginning in organizational psychology consulting with C-suite executives from Russia to London. 

She later transitioned to living in Zambia’s African bush, merging commercial business development with conservation and sustainability.

Most recently, as part of the executive team at White Desert, she has been pioneering luxury tourism and adventure in Antarctica, redefining the boundaries and possibilities of travel.

SEE: From South Africa’s Red Desert to Antarctica’s crystal glaciers 

Read the full interview below.

Discover Africa Safaris: How has the profile of the adventure traveler evolved over the past few years, particularly in the context of White Desert’s guests?

Mindy Roberts: “We’ve seen a change in demographics with younger people wanting to travel and create memories now, rather than wait until retirement for this kind of bucket list experience. We’ve also seen more parents with late teen or early 20s kids want to travel together as this might be the last time as a family before kids head off to Uni or Collage.

With the rising interest in transformational travel, what are you most focused on when it comes to creating this type of travel experience?

“We are so fortunate in that Antarctica has an energy that naturally creates the space for people to find new kinds of joy. Whether it’s being brave and trying a new activity they never though they would or being quiet and simply soaking up the energy of the glaciers in a time of mindfulness.

Sustainability is a significant concern in travel today. Can you discuss how White Desert integrates sustainable practices into its operations and guest experiences? 

“We have two main focus areas. Our Operations, which we continually strive to be more streamlined and efficient when it comes to energy emissions and output. We have been Carbon Neutral since 2007.

“We are the first Antarctic operator to use Sustainable Aviation Fuel in our fleet (SA) at a blend of 30%, which is significant when you see the big airlines looking to blend around 1% initially.

“We remove all waste from the Continent, which impacts much in the supply chain from how we prepare our food or how we set up our bathrooms on ice.

“The second is being proactive about climate change and impact and this year we are setting up the White Desert Foundation which will focus on new projects to capture carbon and enhance the development of green technology.

It’s been a minute since Covid-19’s impact on travel. What long-lasting changes on adventure travel trends have you noted? 

“I think the biggest one I’ve seen is a re-set on people’s outlook to travel in a couple of ways.

1) Wanting to create memories now rather than ‘one day’ with the people they love and choose to share their time with.

2) A true appreciation for nature and how we interact with the planet for mutual growth. That might be by changing their behaviours or mindset when they go home after experiencing a place like Antarctica – almost like a duty of care to make sure these places exist into the future.

Can you share a standout guest experience with White Desert?

“One guest in their early 40s had never been disconnected from their phone as when they started working, it was already the time phones were used as computers.

“We don’t have wifi or cell service available for guests in Antarctica and he spent the first week of his life without this technology. After getting over the ‘guilt’ & stress of being disconnected, he said it was the most peaceful and joyful week of his life. As a result, he and his wife are now planning one week a year to be off-grid after he witnessed the profound benefits (and increase) to his mental health.

Mindy Roberts White Desert CMO Penguins
Mindy Roberts, White Desert Chief Marketing Officer in Antarctica, taking in Emperor Penguins

As CMO, what is the most challenging aspect of marketing a unique destination like Antarctica, and how do you overcome these challenges? 

“The most challenging aspect is that many people who could and should experience this destination don’t know it exists, or if they know about it, they have a distorted perspective of the adventure.

“Telling the stories of how this place makes you feel, reset and expand your mind can be hard as people are in a scroll and high consumption state of being and the stories need a little time and space to be fully digested. I created a daily vlog from my last trip which seemed to work well with many people – a 40 second video of each day to take you behind the experience.

READ: AI Trip Planning Tools Making Travel Easier

Can you discuss any emerging technologies or tools that you believe will revolutionize access to adventure travel in the coming years? 

“VR and XR are interesting and tools we already use. For people who can’t afford these complex and hard to reach destinations, this can be the best way to feel like you’re there without going. The mind often can’t tell the difference between experience and memory, so hopefully this could be an opportunity to get more people to care for and protect Antarctica without them having to physically visit.

From your personal experiences, what is the most memorable journey you have undertaken, and why does it stand out? 

“It might sound weird, but I have re-wired my brain to get excited when I feel a little fear. It takes practice, but I think that’s why the best experiences I’ve had are those that make me feel a little uncomfortable or out of my depth initially but sharing with people I trust.

“I went canyoning in Montenegro with my brother and some close friends and loved the physicality of the sport as well as the fear of abseiling into the unknown, sliding down rock waterfalls and then celebrating together at the end!

Looking ahead, what are the key trends you anticipate will shape the future of transformative adventure travel?

“I think we are seeing more people want to travel authentically and (I hope) it’s less about ticking a box and more about expanding our perspectives.

“I love the idea of the overview effect and having travel be part of understanding our own place in the world and giving us a connection with those different to us in order for us all to learn, grow and be better planetary neighbours.”

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