The perspective of a polar saleswoman
We regularly interview our expedition guides and crew, gushing about all the fantastic locations these lucky souls get to call their office.
But what about the Oceanwide staff whose office is, well, an office?
After all, these behind-the-scenes people are just as responsible for keeping the wheels moving (turbines turning) as our in-the-field folk.
And this is especially true of Maria del Pilar Fernández, our international sales manager.
For the past seven years, Fernández has helped our guests embark on some of the most eye-popping polar voyages on the market, booking bucket-list trips and dealing out dream destinations on a daily basis.
To find out what exactly goes into this work, we had a chat with Fernández and learned a few inside facts about this strange creature called the polar cruise industry.
Some people have their dream job. Your job is to sell people their dreams. What’s that like?
It’s not always as glamorous as that sounds, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it.
What’s your typical day like?
Busy! And always different.
As soon as I wake up, I check the European market emails. Since I’m based in Chile, the people working in Europe (where I do most of my business) have already been awake for several hours.
So by no fault of your own, you start the day already behind?
Yes, I’m basically “late” every morning!
As soon as the market emails are done, I need to solve everything with our office in the Netherlands before it closes, which is about 2pm my time.
Meanwhile, other parts of the world have started working, such as in the American cities and in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico.
This sounds very fast-paced!
It is, because I’m usually responding to travel agents who are anxious to know about trip availability or details, and a lot of it is time-sensitive.
If I have a spare moment, I search for new tour operators and travel agents offering polar expeditions. If I find a new any, I contact them and introduce myself and Oceanwide, showing them what we do, how we operate, and all our experience.
What if you find someone who’s interested?
I start a kind of relationship with them, sending all our information and encouraging them to add us to their website and promotional media.
Sometimes they request a presentation, and I do that by Skype if we’re one-on-one. I can do this in Spanish and English, as I’m the only one on the sales staff who speaks Spanish. That usually takes me through the rest of the workday.
Whatever’s left over is reserved for yoga.
How did you get started at OEX?
I met Ko, the overall consultant for OEX, at the 2007 ITB Berlin tourism trade fair.
I was presenting the ship of another company I worked for, and Ko asked me to do a presentation on an Oceanwide ship for the CEO, Michel, in Amsterdam.
So I flew there and presented their ship, and after that meeting we started a very good relationship.
Michel and Ko later came to Chile to check on their ship and meet everybody involved, and after the inspection we signed the first charter contract for that ship.
Year after year, I was in charge of renewing that contract while I was still working with the other company.
I met some of the OEX staff in different shows all over the world, and every time I met Ko and Michel we had lunch or dinner, so I knew them professional and socially for around five years.
So in 2012, the day after my previous company closed down, I received an email from Michel with the subject line: “future business.”
Seven years later, here I am!
What have your own polar voyages been like? Any surprises?
I’ve been to Antarctica once and to the Arctic twice.
All the trips have been full of surprises and really amazing. I saw 12 polar bears during my first trip to Svalbard, way more than we usually see, and a lot of penguins in Antarctica.
But the most amazing thing was seeing two humpback whales playing around the vessel for more than 20 minutes near the Antarctic Peninsula.
They just swam around the ship, passing below it and showing their tales to us. Everybody went crazy, taking pictures and running around the ship to get the best shot.
It was like we’d hired the whales to do a show for us!
Going to these remote places always offers you an experience you can’t get anywhere else, not only because of the landscapes and activities, but also the opportunity to see so much wildlife.
Did you think you’d ever take an Arctic or Antarctica trip before joining OEX?
To be honest, no. Maybe Antarctica, since it’s so close to Chile. But as for the Arctic, I never thought I’d go there. That’s the only place on Earth I’ve ever felt far from home!
But that made it even more interesting for me.
What do you think is in the future for OEX and the polar cruise industry?
I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years, even just with Oceanwide.
We’ve had a big change in our corporate image. New logo, new office, new ship. Everything looks modern, clean, really attractive.
This is good, not only because our 25th birthday marks a kind of milestone, but because it seems more and more people are becoming interested in Antarctic and Arctic travel.
And this means more and more people will be able to see how much we stand out, how much expertise we have, and much we have to offer.
What do you love most about selling polar adventures?
Being in touch with people all the time.
I love to sell, I’m 100% saleswoman, so every time I have to contact somebody, go to a meeting, or do a presentation, I am excited.
I love to show people what we do, where we go, and the activities we offer in these remote places. It is nice to capture people’s attention. I usually hear them saying, “What a great job you have!”
Any favorite moments?
Those moments when I feel I am part of this team, even though I work remotely, are great. Everybody at OEX cares to make me feel like I’m part of their office.
But I guess my favorite moments have been visiting the beautiful places where we operate.
It’s the Arctic and the Antarctica, after all. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to visit those places. After seeing them, the only place left is the Moon.
Hm, my money’s still on the polar regions.