Get to know the man who’s dedicated to bringing unparalleled travel experiences to adventure seekers!
Always wanted a life full of travel, adventure and excitement? Well, this Italian-American man has it in his in blood and has always dreamed of bringing wonder and joy through travel experiences to people. And that he did! Francesco Galli Zugaro launched Aqua Expeditions for modern-day adventurers who enjoy cruising the world’s greatest rivers and he began by commissioning Aqua Amazon, the first cruiseship that set sail on the Peruvian section of the Amazon River. More recently, Francesco launched the Aqua Mekong that takes guests on a journey to Vietnam and Cambodia. The Aqua Mekong is a glorious work of art that embodies the aesthetic of a five star hotel. Curious to find out more about the brains behind this amazing luxury cruise? Read on to find out more!
Hi Francesco! Can you tell us more about yourself?
I’m half Italian and half American and have lived all over the world including Europe, The Middle East and South America. I’ve always loved to travel, but now my wife, three children and I live in Singapore. I have lived in 12 countries and speak four languages. Travel is my life and have been blessed to discover early on what my passion is. For the past 10 years I have been executing a vision and strategy to become the leading owner and operator of boutique cruisers.
What inspired you start Aqua Expeditions?
Before launching Aqua Expeditions, I was working in a similar industry in the Galapagos Islands. Whilst exploring Latin America and the Galapagos Islands I saw an opportunity to offer a more intimate, tailored and bespoke small ship cruising experience in an untouched destination, on one of the world’s greatest rivers – the Peruvian stretch of the Amazon River.
It is the perfect complement to Machu Picchu and as one of the world’s last great unexplored regions, I couldn’t say no! So, in 2007, Aqua Expeditions launched Aqua Amazon, which was the first luxury river cruiser to set sail on this stretch of the Amazon.
Last year we launched, Aqua Mekong, on the Mekong River between Vietnam and Cambodia.
Can you share with us more about the new interactive experiences aboard the Aqua Mekong?
The latest activities will offer nine to five adventures, taking guests to undiscovered areas of the river and surrounding areas. We encourage guests to choose how they wish to spend their day. They could start their excursions at the mat weaving village of Binh Thanh or at the vibrant markets in Sa Dec, before getting to know the river dwellers in a local Mekong village, sampling fruits and exploring the Vietnamese way of life.
On the Cambodian leg of the journey, guests can even undergo a Buddhist water blessing ceremony, a unique experience conducted by a Buddhist monk.
For the foodies on board, a tour of Chau Market with the chef is now available to learn about the local ingredients for some of the best dishes cooked throughout their stay. The cuisine onboard is influenced by Southeast Asia flavours and the latest menu combines the culinary traditions of the Mekong River culture with the freshest ingredients.
Guests can also explore parts of the Mekong River not accessible by larger vessels by climbing abroad Aqua Mekong’s tenders. From here they can visit the floating markets where more than 100 local sampans gather daily for the buying and selling of goods. We also offer bicycles and local rickshaw rides for more up close encounters with the local people living along the Mekong River. We also offer 8 double kayaks for our more active guests.
What can one expect from an Aqua Expeditions experience?
Aqua Expeditions cruises offer a personalized, enriching and unique experience of the river on board a true, 5-star floating boutique hotel. We offer one-to-one staff to guest ratio and are the first ship on the Mekong with our own private tenders, allowing guests to venture deeper into the tributaries of the river, away from the crowds and closer to seeing life on the river.
Besides the on-board facilities, all three of our ships have globally recognised Executive Chefs on board. Aqua Expeditions’ Executive Chef in the Amazon is Pedro Miguel Schiffano, renowned for his delectable Peruvian cuisine. Aboard Aqua Mekong is David Thompson, Asia’s top ranked chef on The Diners Club World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ Lists.
We have also recently fully refurbished our two Amazon vessels, providing guests with an enhanced experience in a complete environment of luxury and world-class service.
What are some of the challenges you faced while building Aqua Expeditions?
Our cruisers are custom designed and I personally move out to the yards to supervise each construction. I have spent a total of two years deep in the heart of the Amazon building the Aqua and Aria. Most recently I spent 2014 in HCMC in a yard building the Aqua Mekong. In building a luxury vessel, there are numerous aspects to consider. Firstly, the logistical aspects were a challenge as one shipyard was unable to build everything to the standard that we strived for with all our vessels. To overcome this, we brought together a mixed pool of specialists to come together at the shipyard. This included hotel interiors specialists, interior designers, specialist contractors and many other suppliers.
It was also important for us to ensure there was no miscommunication during the building process, given the language and cultural barriers. At the time of construction, Vietnam and Cambodia were new destinations for us, so it took time to become accustomed to local business practices.
Nevertheless, it is the challenges that spur us on and ensure that we exceed our own expectations.
You’ve been involved in the travel industry for some time now and seen things change over time. What are the sort of things people look for in a luxury holiday these days?
In my mind, modern luxury travellers are looking for authentic experiences, in complete comfort. Our highly experienced team works tirelessly to ensure that every element of the journey is perfect – from the food, to the beautifully designed suites, to the guided water and on-shore expeditions – allowing guests to experience the rivers authentically, at their own pace and without sacrificing any creature comfort they have come to expect.
Which is that one unexplored yet extraordinary travel destination?
There are actually a few I can think of. There are many waterways that can provide unique travel experiences. The Kimberlys in Australia, Alor Achipelago and Papua, Borneo and Raja Ampat in Indonesia as well as Cuba are amongst some of them.
What sort of travel trends do you think will be big in 2016?
People today are working harder and harder putting in longer days, with less time to spend with their families, making time on holiday more precious than ever. People want authentic, luxury adventures and experiences, far from their day jobs. They want to create life memory which they will cherish forever and bring the family together. This is the future of luxury adventure travel.
In terms of destinations, emerging markets, especially in Asia are becoming top destinations for travellers. People no longer want mainstream experiences, but prefer an off the beaten track adventure.
What fascinates you about travelling?
Travel gives you that feeling of escapism and being free. It lets you explore your imagination, go beyond your comfort zone and experience things that, you wouldn’t get a chance to do in your day to day life. Furthermore, being able to do all of that with my wife and kids brings about a great feeling.
Are there any other projects that you’re currently undertaking?
I am always on the lookout for new opportunities and adventures for our guests. It’s about finding destinations that are viable and appeal to our audience. Watch this space…
What can we expect from you and Aqua Expeditions in the next few years?
There are numerous bodies of water that I want to explore and in 2016, we hope to announce our exciting new venture.
Visit Aqua Expeditions to find out more about the amazing cruises.
Thanks to the wonderful Mango PR for coordinating this interview with Francesco!