Sven Lindblad Takes Passengers to the Wild Places


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Travelers on a Lindblad Expeditions trip explore the waters off Antarctica.

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Michael S. Nolan/, via Lindblad Expeditions

In 1958, Lars-Eric Lindblad founded Lindblad Travel with a mission to explore the world; that included sending the first expedition cruise to Antarctica in 1966. In the 50 years since, Lindblad also pioneered cruising in the Galápagos and the Seychelles. Lars-Eric’s son, Sven Lindblad, spent six years as a photographer and filmmaker in East Africa before joining his father’s company and making it entirely ship-based under the name Lindblad Expeditions; he is its chief executive. Between a trip to Monaco for a conservation meeting and one to Cuba to develop a new cruise, Mr. Lindblad, 65, spoke about expedition cruising. Following are edited excerpts from a conversation with him.

Q. Your father has been called the father of eco-tourism. What did he teach you?

A. I didn’t know my father that well. He was traveling nine months a year when I was a kid. But I had this incredible respect for his courage, ideas and vision for what he had created, and I wanted to find a way to lend business sensibilities to his vision. At a certain point I got more and more enamored with ships. Most of the places we went there was no one else there, in the South Pacific, Indonesia, South America, the Seychelles. My relationship with ships is born out of my time in Africa. The ship is like a safari camp. It allows you to move in wild areas based on the season and go to places you can otherwise not reach. That’s what I love about ships. You can be self-contained and can go anywhere in the world and get away from the traffic of mass tourism.

How has cruising in Antarctica changed since Lindblad began going?

Last season there was something like 35,000 people who went on ships, from small yachts to large cruise ships. So there are clearly more people in the Antarctic. There are purists who suggest that’s a bad thing. I think the more people who can see a place like Antarctica, the better, because it provides such a powerful experience and changes people’s lives forever.

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Sven Linblad.

Lindblad was the first to go to the Galápagos. Are you worried about excessive traffic there?

Most of the growth has been land-based tourism. Ten years ago there were no hotels to speak of. Now there are plenty. I think the Galápagos National Park has done a tremendous job of spreading out visitors in such a way that sites aren’t overcrowded. The biggest pressure in the Galápagos is probably population growth.

Where is the new Antarctica? Are there any great unknowns left to explore?

The world’s been pretty much mapped out. But there are lots of opportunities for nuances. Hundreds of thousands of people go to Southeast Alaska every summer. But if you look at all the coast and the bays and the channels, you could be there for a week and not encounter anyone else. There are also new places from an American perspective like Cuba. There are umpteen islands in the South Pacific. That’s also true in the Indian Ocean. The coast of South America has been underrated. You’re not going to discover a country, but you’ll discover a bay or a river or a reef to go diving on. So these discoveries come in measured packages these days. But they’re out there.

How can travel, and cruising specifically, serve conservation aims?

The educational component about how we relate to things is vastly improved by how we experience it. If you go to the Arctic and smart people talk to you about being there, your view on climate change is going to be different. It’s no longer abstract, it’s personal. I think that’s a good thing. Our relationship with nature is very out of balance, and this needs to move up the food chain. The only way to do that is to broaden the number of people that care, and travel is one of the most powerful ways.

How is expedition cruising different than other kinds of cruising?

Cruise ships focus inward. It’s the ships and amenities on board, the entertainment that is largely self-produced. What’s happening outside is much less relevant. In expedition cruising, it’s the reverse. It’s focused on what’s out there, and the ship is a means to get there.

Correction: March 18, 2016

A headline in earlier version of this article misspelled the subject’s surname. As the column correctly noted, he is Sven Lindblad, not Linblad.

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