(11 a.m. EDT) -- Hurtigruten Expeditions is teaming up with Metropolitan Touring to offer Galapagos cruising from January next year.
It will be the first time the Norway-based line, which specialises primarily in Polar expeditions, has had a presence in the iconic islands.
The line has entered into a long-term strategic partnership with Metropolitan Touring, one of the pioneers of Galapagos cruising, which includes refurbishing and relaunching one of its ships Santa Cruz II in Hurtigruten livery.
"We are extremely excited to expand our South America offering to one of the most spectacular destinations on the planet," Hurtigruten Group CEO Daniel Skjeldam said.
The Galapagos Islands are extremely tightly regulated in terms of tourism and all lines have to apply for a licence to operate, which come up very infrequently. By entering into a strategic partnership, it allows Hurtigruten to operate jointly with Metropolitan without having to wait for their own licence.
"We wanted to be in the Galapagos for the past six or seven years. When we started discussing it we found Galapagos to perfectly fit our product," he said. "Then we found Metropolitan had exactly the same way of dealing with things, protecting the waters in an environmentally-friendly way -- we are kindred spirits."
Hurtigruten is now two separate companies -- Hurtigruten Expeditions and Norwegian Coastal Express, the latter operating the classic Norwegian coastal voyage.
Skjeldam explained that this move was just the beginning of further expansion by Expeditions to non-Polar regions: "Our strategy is to grow significantly outside Polar areas, so this is the first of hopefully many announcements on more destiantions outside Polar waters."
Ecuador-based Metropolitan Touring pioneered Galapagos cruising some 70 years ago, and operates three ships in the islands: Santa Cruz II, La Pinta and Isabela II.
"This partnership brings together two companies that combine the best of two worlds: Hurtigruten Expeditions as a global player with an excellent reputation in expedition cruises, and our long history, deep knowledge and amazing, experienced teams working in the Galapagos Islands," said Metropolitan Touring CEO Paulina Burbano de Lara.
"We believe the partnership will bolster the Galapagos' reputation as a nature-based, responsible travel destination on the global stage."
"We have seen a clear trend of travelers seeking out truly unique and meaningful travel experiences, with a sharp increase in demand for the type of small ships/big experiences we offer.
"The pandemic has dramatically pushed this development forward. There is huge pent-up demand for traveling right now and we are responding with this breath-taking new destination."
As well as a repainted livery, Santa Cruz II will also have all suites and cabins, explorer lounge, dining room, bar and other public areas fully upgraded. A Hurtigruten Expeditions hallmark, a Science Area, will also be added, where guests and the onboard expedition team will create an even deeper understanding of the wonders they explore.
Under Ecuadorian law, crew have to be local. Food will mainly be sourced locally, and the refurb will see a strong emphasis on local design rather than Norwegian.
With both companies sharing common values in investing in sustainability, all Hurtigruten Expeditions cruises to Galapagos are carbon neutral. Hurtigruten Expeditions guests will contribute directly to the protection of biodiverse forests in northwestern Ecuador, named a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2018.
The line will offer six-day cruises around the islands, starting in January 2022; followed by four- and six-day cruises from 2023.