A runway of opportunity for Clipper Navigation

David Gudgel tells Sandra Speares about the firm’s latest developments

A runway of opportunity for Clipper Navigation
Victoria Clipper V accommodates 545 passengers and provides a year-round service between Seattle and Victoria

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Providing fast and reliable ferry services between Seattle, Washington and Victoria in British Columbia has been Clipper Navigation’s unique selling point since it began operations in 1986. The company became the first to operate a passenger-only service between the two destinations, as well as the first to operate a high-speed catamaran in North America. Now, 33 years later, the company is still as successful as ever. 

“The core of Clipper’s 33 years of success has revolved around safety, reliability, great employees, regional travel planning expertise and relentless commitment to superb customer experience,” says David Gudgel, CEO of Clipper. “We know that our customers start their vacation the moment they step onboard our vessels, so it’s critical that we exceed expectations for that envisioned travel experience at every touchpoint along the way.”

To ensure this, Clipper spends hours training its customer-facing staff. “Most of our employees are regional natives with a strong basis of expertise already, but we provide them with deep product and regional travel knowledge, repeated regular safety training and over-emphasise the importance of attention to detail and care. We ensure that every one of our staff members approaches their job at Clipper with a customer-centric mindset.”

Core partnerships within the travel and tourism industry also form the backbone of Clipper’s success. “We cherish our partnerships – we have everything from longstanding relationships with hotel and tour operators, to strategic destination marketing organisation partners,” says Gudgel. “Clipper would not be the company it is today without the dedication and support of partners across all lines of our business.”

Clipper’s principal business goals are also communicated clearly to employees, who are offered fun travel incentives and given sales targets to keep them engaged and motivated. Hence, Gugdel expects employees to be positive and dedicated. 

“We have many senior employees who have been with us for more than 15 and even 20 years of their career,” he says. “From captains and engineers, to reservation agents and administrative staff, we’re such a unique company in the Pacific Northwest and within the travel industry at large. Our employees truly believe in and stand by our product. It’s also hard to not have fun when your work centres around providing visitors with excellent travel experiences in one of the most beautiful regions of the world.”

Ensuring employees focus on always going above and beyond to exceed customer expectations and encouraging them to build authentic dialogue and establish a vested interest in their travel experiences is essential. 

“Clipper’s mission is to provide highly curated and authentic travel getaways and experiences that are personally vetted by our team of travel experts with the goal of creating exceptional memories for our customers,” explains Gudgel. “With Seattle’s rapidly shifting demographics, we know there are still so many new residents who have not yet experienced a Clipper trip. We have a long runway of opportunity to work in tandem with our core destination marketing partners across our target markets to encourage travel across the region. Furthermore, we know that focusing on our core product and target demographics affords a lot more room for growth and opportunity. All the while, we are continually keeping an eye out and assessing opportunities for further regional growth and expansion.”

Increasing environmental sustainability is also now a hot topic for Clipper, with the International Maritime Organization’s new 0.5% sulphur cap coming into force in January 2020. Clipper’s vessels also operate in an area of outstanding natural beauty, which has an abundance of sea life that could be badly affected by pollution. That’s why the company has several key goals when it comes to minimising the environmental impact of its fleet.

“We’re excited that Clipper is rolling out its first official corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme by the end of 2019,” says Gudgel. “We realised that there is so much we are already doing to give back to society, engage in a meaningful shared values-based way with our customers and employees and reduce our impact on the environment – we just haven’t done a great job telling that story. Environmental impact is a core component of our CSR programme and we are already making moves on this front.”

First, the company has greatly reduced the number of sailings – without impacting its capacity. “In 2017 and 2018, we offered 232 fewer sailings between Seattle and Victoria by introducing our newer, bigger Victoria Clipper V vessel on the route,” comments Gudgel. “Less sailings equates to less fuel consumption, as well as less traffic and disturbance to our sea life in the Salish Sea.

“We’re also moving to 100% compostable packaging for onboard food items to reduce plastic consumption. Plus, we actively assist whale and sea life-monitoring organisations by collecting and reporting data to help inform conservation efforts.”

Employees are actively involved in conservation too. “Our employees are engaged in public education training, beach clean-ups and salmon habitat restoration efforts around the Puget Sound,” explains Gudgel. “We feel all of these activities speak to our core values as an environmentally-minded company leading by example in the Pacific Northwest.”

Clipper regularly reviews operational processes and explores how new technologies could potentially enhance efficiency. This also enables the company to identify opportunities for improving passenger experience.

“We operate on a continual feedback loop and we are data hounds,” says Gudgel. “While department leads regularly assess individual key performance indicators, we use a weekly leadership meeting to review overall operational and customer experience areas of improvement. Between customer surveys and direct feedback, as well as partner and sales channel feedback, we align and prioritise an ongoing project roadmap to ensure we are constantly improving our overall brand impact and experience.” 

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By Sandra Speares
17 December 2019

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