I truly believe that to get the most out of a holiday you must immerse yourself in the experience. One should step outside one’s comfort zone. Travel is about embracing differences, different cultures, customs, and natural environments.

As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Suzana Machado D’Oliveira.

Exploring with A&K since 1992, Suzana has greeted the shores of extraordinary locales that include Japan, the Amazon and Antarctica, which she has visited upward of 200 times. An agile leader who has served as cruise director, expedition leader and naturalist guide, she is also A&K’s representative to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), which champions the practice of safe and environmentally responsible travel to Antarctica. Suzana is a native of Brazil, where she studied history at Rio de Janeiro’s Catholic University.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It was quite by accident. I’m Brazilian and growing up l learned all I could about other countries and I dreamed of traveling the world. It’s in my DNA.

My path into expedition cruising was quite accidental. I relocated to the US after college and settled in Seattle, where I first learned about “expedition cruising.” It sounded exciting, fun and a dream to someone like me that loved traveling but most of all adored learning about the places I visited.

As soon as I realized that I was realizing the dreams of my childhood, I wanted to make expeditions my career. So here I am 35 years later, still onboard expedition ships exploring our amazing planet.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It was a beautiful calm day in Antarctica at one of my favorite spots, Paradise Bay. I was alone in a Zodiac, the landing craft we use in Antarctica. I was waiting to help shuttle guests back to the ship, just enjoying the peacefulness and beauty of Paradise Bay when I heard a noise behind me. I turned and saw a Minke Whale right next to my Zodiac. A minke whale is one of the smaller whales in Antarctica but it dwarfs a Zodiac in size, so seeing one surface so close took me by surprise.

The whale was “spyhopping,” that is, lifting its head out of the water to take a look at me. I found myself looking eye to eye at one of the whales still being hunted. This is an animal that had every reason to swim away to safety — and yet it seemed more curious than afraid.

The Minke ended up tagging along, slipping underwater for a few seconds, then surfacing for a time to breathe, its breath so close to the Zodiac that I could hear and feel it. It was a whale large enough to flip my Zodiac, but each time it surfaced it rose just a few feet away — just close enough to reestablish eye contact. We continued to glide along together in the still clear water until it was time for me to return to shore.

In the many years since that first encounter, I’ve had several opportunities to interact with whales and even today it is a thrilling wildlife experience unlike any other.

I believe that interacting with these gentle giants changes a person forever.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The focus of expedition cruising is on education, and the expedition team includes many specialists that lecture about different aspects of the destination.

Today the lectures are illustrated with PowerPoint presentations, but in the early days the illustrations were on slides. During my first season onboard expedition ships, I was often in charge of setting up the slide projectors.

The lecturers would carefully load their slides in proper order into a pair of carousels that were synced to a very basic apparatus that would synchronize them. Trust me, I was not, and I am still not a technological person, but I decided to go ahead and not ask for help in setting up the system since I believed I had done my due diligence learning about it.

One morning in the Arctic, somehow the two carousels got out of order and soon the pictures had nothing to do with what the lecturer was talking about. The more I tried to fix the problem, the worse it got! It was like an episode of The Three Stooges. I was repeatedly running between the stage and the projection booth trying to synch the projectors, while the presenter looked at me as if I was Larry to his Moe.

I remain grateful that the lecturer graciously took my problems in stride, kept adapting his presentation, and despite the technical issues, shared valuable information with our guests. I learned a lot that day.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

His name is Richard Grund, someone that unfortunately I have lost contact with.

It happened in the late 80s and by then I had come to the US. I travelled around the country taking odd jobs as I travelled from one city to another. I settled in Seattle for a time and got a job in the Sheraton Hotel managing one of their restaurants to make ends meet. Richard and a friend would come in twice a week for a meal.

He is a very intelligent man and we had long conversations during his meals about life and my plans for the future. Some months later he and his wife came to Rio de Janeiro after a trip to the Amazon when I was in Rio visiting my parents. I took them around, they met my mother, we had meals together and they learned even more about my interests and my love of traveling, experiencing, and even immersing myself in new places.

Later in Seattle, he asked me to prepare my resume to send to one of the CEOs of Society Expeditions, the company that he used to explore the Amazon. The CEO was on his expedition, and they became friends. I jumped at the opportunity but deep down I never thought that nothing would come out of it. After all this was my dream job and why would anyone give it to me?

To my surprise, two interviews later I got the job! I was hired to first learn the ins and outs of the office, but not too long after that I was sent on my first assignment to Svalbard in the Arctic–the land of the Polar Bear!

Dick and his wife saw in me a potential that I did not know I had and believed that I could become what I am now. I am eternally grateful because he took the time to see me something rare, very rare.

Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

At A&K we work as a team to develop innovative solutions to enhance the guest experience. I don’t want to give the impression that I was instrumental in creating the innovations, but I would like to think that I made meaningful contributions in several areas.

We believe that we have the responsibility to share our knowledge about the areas we visit. We consider ourselves ambassadors of Antarctica, for example. Most guests that travel to Antarctica know little about the continent, its animal life, history, geology, or its role in climate change.

We are also working on ways to reduce the impact of the growing numbers of people who want to visit Antarctica.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

The numbers of visitors to Antarctica is growing every year. We want everyone to visit the unique continent that is Antarctica, but we also don’t want growing numbers to place ecological pressure in the continent.

We working with the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) to establish guidelines to regulate tourism. Ships carrying 500 visitors or more are not permitted to go ashore, while ships with fewer than 500 can land at approved sites, but only one ship at a time. There is also a cap on how many ships can visit the same site on the same day. As an additional layer of protection, only 50–100 people are permitted on land at any time, and for every 20 guests onshore, there must be at least one crew member.

As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?

Post- Covid19 people seem to be trying to make up for the time they were unable to travel. Folks have always enjoyed travel but today there seems to be a greater sense of urgency. They want to discover the world more intimately. While the popular destinations are still popular, many people are embracing expedition travel to discover more destinations further afield.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

I like your choice of words: “vacation experience”.

I truly believe that to get the most out of a holiday you must immerse yourself in the experience. One should step outside one’s comfort zone. Travel is about embracing differences, different cultures, customs, and natural environments.

Despite hundreds of trips over thirty plus years traveling to Antarctica, it remains my idea of a perfect vacation experience. No two voyages are the same. It’s a place where nature is in charge and we humans are just visitors. Antarctica is the largest wilderness on the planet — a continent devoted to peace and science — and a great place to get outside of one’s comfort zone.

Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.

I believe that while we offer a full program of education and activities, that there should so able time for reflection. Many travel programs keep guests busy all the time. Expedition cruising takes a person into natural environments perfect for introspection. Some of the most rewarding moments can be quietly sitting on a rock alone (or maybe with a significant other) and just contemplating life. That’s why I believe we should also spend free time closer to nature.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more?






Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

It is a privilege to share this amazing planet with our guests. Traveling can change one’s view of the world — and most importantly — after an expedition to Antarctica, one will never see your own neighborhood as it was before.

As a person of influence, if you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We travel to Antarctica and the Arctic, two places where the effects of climate change are obvious. Every trip is a reminder to guests that they are witnessing wilderness areas that are endangered as the climate continues to change.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.