Name: Matthew James Swan
Position title: Director of Business Development and Expedition Leader
Company name: Adventure Canada
When and why did you join the industry?
The thrill of exploration was instilled in me at a very young age. Trips with my family introduced me to the beauty of nature, wildlife, and culture—all of which cultivated a desire to continuously learn. I started working on expedition ships as a guide at the age of 16 and never looked back. Pretty awesome summer job!
What do you like most about your job?
Our clients! I have the pleasure of meeting many interesting, well-travelled individuals with a wealth of knowledge. Hearing about their personal experiences fuels my desire to travel. Meeting new people and sharing extraordinary experiences with them fosters lifelong friendships.
What’s one of the biggest achievements of your career so far?
Since 2015, Adventure Canada has doubled in passenger growth, revenue growth, and brand awareness. This is a direct result of strong, tactical partnerships with thorough training and marketing strategies that I manage.
I have led over 30 expeditions—including seven through the fabled Northwest Passage, one of the most remote and demanding waterways in the world.
What’s the best advice ever given to you and who gave it?
During one of my first Arctic voyages as an expedition leader, I was faced with days of tricky ice navigation that put us days off our route. I was struggling with how to best explain this to our clients: how to communicate that that their trip of a lifetime is being fundamentally altered. The Swedish captain, Kenth Grenqvist, who I have known since a very young age pulled me into the captain’s quarters to tell me not to put my energy into things I can’t control. “It’s a waste,” he said. “Focus on what you can control, and make it the best it can be.” This helped me accept our predicament and focus on what I could do to improve our situation. The two days we spent in the ice—that I thought would ruin the trip—ended up being filled with spectacular moments. This still resonates with me and shapes how I approach my career. Captain Kenth is now retired but remains a good friend and mentor.
Who do you admire and see as a role model in the industry?
My father, the founder of Adventure Canada, was a pioneer in developing travel through the Canadian Arctic. His flair, sense of humour and ability to connect with people and landscapes have opened many minds and hearts. He ignites a passion to travel that is infectious. This ability has recently won him the Tourism Industry Association of Canada Lifetime Achievement Award.
What can people expect from your company and what sets it apart from the rest?
Adventure Canada is Canada’s leading small ship expedition cruise company. Our internationally recognised Voyages of Discovery feature soft adventures to the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Newfoundland & Labrador, and the Maritimes. Highlight voyages unique to Adventure Canada are expeditions through the fabled Northwest Passage, circumnavigations of Newfoundland and to remote Sable Island. Small ships are the best way to explore. With only 200 passengers and a fleet of 20 zodiacs, our expedition vessel, The Ocean Endeavour, is welcoming, comfortable, safe, and appealing to those who seek the road less travelled. Our expeditions are true adventures.
Each of our voyages offer access to remote locations, opportunity for learning from engaging experts and a healthy dose of humour. Specific voyages often have a unique focus—for instance, through our partnership with Parks Canada. In 2018, we’ll offer snorkeling on the famous HMS Erebus wreak and at The Torngat Mountains National Park (Nunatsiavut, Labrador), we’ll acknowledge the achievement of reaching 100 per cent Inuit management and employment, the first and only national park in Canada to do so, while hiking and exploring the deep fjords with Inuit hosts. We will also share with guests an in-depth understanding of current conservation efforts in the Arctic.
Family-owned and operated, Adventure Canada celebrated 30 years of operation in 2017. Our reputation is built on the quality, care, and passion we deliver during the booking process, on our programs and post- expedition. We are all about community and facilitating meaningful connections amongst our guests, our hosts and within the stunning landscapes we explore.
What destinations are on your travel bucket list?
I am yet to travel through Africa and my sights are set on Madagascar. Also, I have always wanted to canoe the Mekong river through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
What’s a memorable travel experience you’ve had (good or bad)? Once, while breaking through sea ice in Bellot Strait, we came upon a family of polar bears. A mother with her two tiny cubs were playfully exploring the sea ice. When they finally noticed our ship, they became quite curious. The captain killed the engines and—to our surprise—all three bears slowly approached, completely uninhibited, sniffing the air only a few feet from the side of our vessel. In that moment, these majestic animals created a sense of peace within me that I will carry with me forever.
What are three things you always take with you when travelling?
My laptop. Even when on vacation, I want to ensure my clients are taken care of. It allows me to truly relax while on the road because I can handle anything urgent before it becomes a problem.
I always travel with an open mind. I think that the best way to travel is to truly open yourself to new places and experiences—meeting people, making connections. I make an effort to try every bit of local food I can get my hands on and learn some local music. I am a terrible singer.
I also carry my Toronto Maple Leafs hat. GO LEAFS GO! I have a feeling we are going to win the Stanley Cup this year for the first time in 50 years!
Name someone famous you’d like to travel with and a destination you’d like to go with them.
I wish I could bring William Wallace to 21st century Scotland. My Scottish heritage has always inspired deep interest in Scottish history and to spend time exploring the rolling highlands of Scotland with one of the most iconic historical figures would be a dream come true.
What direction do you see the industry heading in over the next five to ten years?
Expedition travel is becoming increasing popular within the industry. In the next three-to-four years, there will be more than 20 new expedition ships introduced to the market. This is a result of travellers looking for an educational experience in remote regions with the comforts of today’s world. Travelling in this fashion provides much opportunity and will continue to grow for the years to come.