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An Interview with Sven-Olof Lindblad, Founder of Lindblad Expeditions

Inspiring A Positive Ocean Ethic Through
Travel and Exploration

Travel has the incredible power to move people and to instill in them a sense of wonder and awe.  No one knows this better than Sven-Olof Lindblad, Founder of Lindblad Expeditions, a pioneering expedition travel company that works in partnership with National Geographic to inspire people to explore and care about the planet.  Sven-Olof was recently honored by the Blue Ocean Institute at their Annual Benefit and SeaWeb caught up with him to discuss travels, photography, and the environment.

“…human beings and natural systems need a new relationship rooted in fact, real economics and respect. I believe travel can inspire people to care and act on behalf of the planet.”

— Sven-Olof Lindblad

SeaWeb: Can you describe the moment, or time in your life, when you came to the realization that the environment needed and deserved protection?

Sven Olof-Lindblad: It was in 1970 when I was working in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park.  Elephants, Africa’s largest population, were under assault from poachers.  The elephants were protected on paper but they were still killed in droves.

SW: What were the greatest challenges for you in creating an environmentally and socially responsible travel brand, and did you incorporate that mindset from the beginning or was it an evolution?

SOL: Creating a socially responsible travel brand was not, in of itself, a challenge.  It was part of my personal DNA and rapidly became part of the belief system of those around me.  The challenge is doing enough and applying the time and resources.

Credit: Michael S. Nolan
Credit: Michael S. Nolan

SW: Why do you feel it is so important to weave this way of thinking into world travel?

SOL: Simply put – human beings and natural systems need a new relationship rooted in fact, real economics and respect.  I believe travel can inspire people to care and act on behalf of the planet.

SW: How, in your mind, is photography supporting environmental conservation and what part does it play in your trips, if any?

SOL: Photography transmits more than just images; it transmits wonder, pain and awe.  When it’s shared, it is a very powerful medium and we provide serious guidance to emerging photographers at any level.

SW: What are the specific challenges to maintaining these ethics when considering ocean travel, and more specifically, “cruising”?

SOL: I try to look at everything as if there were a scale.  On one hand we burn fuel and people have to fly to get to our ships, which contributes to our carbon footprint.  On the other hand, people see, learn and feel nature in powerful ways.  To me the scale tips favorably.

SW: What are the most effective ways to inspire your travelers to respect their destinations and to instill in them the desire to protect the places to which you take them?

Sven-Olof Lindblad
Credit: Sven-Olof Lindblad

SOL: First by ensuring that they have a fantastic experience; then facilitating conversation and development of ideas which foster reverence, respect and, hopefully, action which is positive.  It is also worth stating that our travelers are extraordinary and inspire us as much as we do them.

SW: Has there been a shift in the market for more environmentally sustainable travel?  Has demand for sustainable travel increased?

SOL: Although I don’t have statistical proof, I can say that we are doing extremely well and, although some of the reason is how we manage our business, I believe a large part is an increased awareness and interest in connecting with the world’s wild places.  The fear of loss is motivating – the ice before it melts, for example.  The trick, though, is taking that fear, the emotions developed by travel experiences and turning them into positive ideas and positive actions.


Sven-Olof Lindblad

Sven-Olof Lindblad learned early on the joy and wonder of exploring the pristine corners of the globe through extensive travels with his father, Lars-Eric Lindblad, the expedition travel pioneer known to many as the father of “eco-tourism”. Today, Sven continues the Lindblad tradition of exploration through his company – Lindblad Expeditions (LEX). With its hallmark staff and carefully researched and planned itineraries, Lindblad Expeditions owns and operates seven vessels and the company is lauded for it innovative exploration and conservation efforts.  In 2004 the company forged a multifaceted strategic alliance with the National Geographic Society (NGS) in which the two organizations collaborate in the areas of exploration, technology and conservation.

From Lindblad’s earliest days, the company set out to proactively protect the world's wild places. Sven Lindblad continues to run his business with the approach that respectful adventure tourism can be a key factor in helping to sustain a region and, in some cases, even repair it. With that philosophy in mind, Lindblad Expeditions has built robust travel philanthropy programs in the Galapagos, Antarctica, the Arctic, Baja and Alaska. To date, the company has raised over $9 million to support local efforts in the destinations where it travels. Lindblad Expeditions received the 2007 Tourism for Tomorrow Global Tourism Business Award, presented annually by the World Travel & Tourism Council. The coveted award recognized Lindblad Expeditions for “outstanding leadership as a global model for environmental stewardship.”

Lindblad Expeditions has graciously donated a cabin for two aboard the National Geographic Endeavour for a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands for the first prize winner of SeaWeb's Marine Photobank Conservation Photo Contest!

For more information about Lindblad Expeditions visit: www.expeditions.com.