Cruise operators in the Kimberley are branching out into new fields while keeping on course with their core business – showing Aussie tourists what’s in their own backyard.
SAILING along the pristine waters of the Kimberley coast in the lap of luxury is a travel experience most assume is reserved for the rich and famous.
Just picture it; a fully staffed luxury 25-metre-plus launch, decked out in the latest features, with 5-star service for guests, including a helicopter which is available for scenic flights from the boat's helipad.
The three main operators in the Kimberley are Pearl Sea Coastal Cruises' 'Kimberley Quest II', North Star Cruises' 'True North' and The Great Escape Charter Company's twin offering, 'MV Great Escape' and 'MV Kimberley Escape'.
Pearl Sea Coastal Cruises is a family owned business operating in the region for 15 years.
Pearl Sea owner Lynne Ralston says while the cruises seem to be a very high-end holiday experience, many repeat customers are typical Australian tourists.
Mrs Ralston heads up the company with her husband, Jeff, and enjoys working each day with her entire family.
"I've got my son and son-in-law as captains and I've got two of my daughters working in the office. My other daughter is out on one of the commercial vessels at the moment, she's a chef there," Mrs Ralston told Business Class.
Mrs Ralston insists the remaining crew and all guests are treated like family, resulting in high levels of repeat customers.
In addition to its traditional tourism offering, Pearl Sea Coastal Cruises is actively developing alternative revenue streams, including commercial work for large corporations.
This revenue stream is especially important considering the company's second-tier vessel, 'Kimberley Quest I' worth $2.5 million, was destroyed by fire two months ago.
"I do a lot of work for Woodside, we're doing a big whale research program at the moment and we do a lot of other work but most of it's connected through them [Woodside]," she says.
Mrs Ralston even brought in extra boats, the 'Browse Express' and 'Cape Voltaire' for ongoing commercial work.
"I would say the cruising side is more lucrative, but it's hard really because it's up and down," she says.
Fluctuations in demand due to the economic downturn mean, for the first time, that Pearl Sea is offering discounts of between 15 and 20 per cent, and $500 pearl vouchers for use at Linneys in Broome, which help attract customers.
"We've got a lot more bookings in place for next year than we did at this time last year," Mrs Ralston says.
While Mrs Ralston offered discounts and organised boat open days in Perth earlier this year to enhance bookings, The Great Escape Charter Company's master and operations manager, Chris Tucker, says he doesn't need extra marketing efforts to improve his family business.
"We're pretty close to being full for next year as well," Mr Tucker says.
"We operate with only 14 guests, so seven couples are fairly easy to find, and there are a lot of people out there keen to do this, and we get a lot of return business."
But Mr Tucker admits to staking a claim in the burgeoning commercial sector.
"We've done a little bit of it and it's been quite successful and we're building that up," he told Business Class.
"But I think the cruising side has a long way to go, it has a fantastic future."
North Star Cruises director, Mark Stothard isn't venturing into commercial operations just yet while his core business with the 'True North' remains solid.
"We may well utilise the facility at the waterfront in Broome for stevedoring but that's just a small idea," Mr Stothard says.
"And for the first time we're offering chance availability discounts, which is attractive to our customers."