What else is new and selling like the proverbial hotcakes is Avalon’s new Mekong program. “On the Mekong, our first departure isn’t until September of next year because the ship won’t be completed until then, but the load factor is already in the mid-70s. So every departure has bookings, some are already sold and we’re already seeing interest in early-2013—we’ve got bookings already in that,” Clark explains. “I think the timing is right. It’s resonating with those experienced travelers and I think it’s one of those vacations that’s going to have tremendous growth and a high satisfaction level. Customers come back and they really are just amazed by the destination and the generosity and charm of the people.”
The new small ship Pandaw is building for Avalon allows passengers to go right into the heart of Saigon and also right into Siem Reap city. “Because of the shallow water not all of the ships can do that; the larger ships have to dock outside and use transfers,” he points out. “People are going to love it. It’s just a wonderful itinerary. The food, the things on board, the service is just great in terms of our standards that we have in Europe. They can experience all that in an environment that’s subtropical so the ships are built with teak and wood. It’s got 16 staterooms for 32 passengers, so it’s going to be like a private yacht.”
Some not so good news is Avalon’s Egypt programs. Like the rest of the river cruise companies with ships on the Nile, the load factors have been abysmal, despite the fact the company has added programs and extensions to nearby countries such as Israel and Jordan. They’re also leasing space on a new ship this year, the Mayfair, that was just launched in December of last year.
“I’m under no illusions about Egypt, it’s coming, it’s coming, but it’s very slow,” Clark bemoans. “We’re getting bookings, but it’s nowhere near the level we had before the Arab Spring. We’ve got a lot of new things in Egypt—we’ve got a new ship on the Nile, we’ve introduced Lake Nasser, we’ve added different itineraries, we’ve provided the opportunity to do pre or post in Jordan, there’s an Israel combination. There are lots of things we’ve tied into Egypt. But we’re in it for the long haul, it’s going to be slow and we understand that. And, until things settle down, there’s just too many other choices for travel.”
Avalon, too, is offering those choices to travelers, even in the niche categories like the Galapagos, where sales have actually come up, despite the fact they’ve been selling the program for years. “We’ve been in the Galapagos for years and we still offer the cruise combined with Ecuador and Peru—Machu Picchu and things like that,” Clark points out. “The Santa Cruz is the ship that we use, it’s with Metropolitan Touring and we’ve used it for years. It’s steady and actually the bookings are up for this year and I’m pleased to see that. It’s not an inexpensive trip, it’s one for the experienced traveler. It’s a bucket list trip, a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It’s still growing, but it’s not one of those destinations that’s ever going to be mass market.”
For more information on Avalon, visit avalonwaterways.com.
uniworld boutique river cruise collection Like the rest of the river cruise segment, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has expanded its inventory with three more new ships in Europe this year and its entry into the Mekong market scheduled for next year and now, thanks to the extremely strong sales of its new Vietnam and Cambodia, they’ve already decided to add still another new ship to its Mekong inventory, even before the company’s first new ship has gotten its hull wet.
“The booking on the Mekong is going incredibly well. Within just eight weeks of launching this new program to the market, we’re already about 50 percent sold,” says an enthusiastic Guy Young, president of Uniworld. “We’re almost completely sold out from January through March and we aren’t actually operating in August and then picking up in September. Sales have been much stronger than we anticipated. And really based on the extremely strong sales and how quickly it’s sold with us not being in the market that long, we have made the decision to launch a second ship on the Mekong in 2013, so we can double our inventory and we’ve already signed a contract for that.”