Uniworld now has 10 company-owned ships in Europe and one leased ship on the Douro in Portugal. But because they have already launched three new ships in Europe in 2011, they don’t have any new ships coming for 2012. Still, Young adds, “We are doing three total refurbishments—the River Countess, the River Duchess and the River Royale for 2012. We also launched a refurbished ship in Russia and it’s doing very well.”
Young says he thinks the river cruise segment is growing so tremendously because the feedback from the Europe product is so “fantastic,” driving demand for new product and destinations. “I think they’re still looking for us to come up with new destinations and I also think there’s a general appetite for travel to Asia, so I think with all of that combined, we are making a very successful program and we’ve been very pleasantly surprised. We thought it would go well but it’s done a lot better than expected.”.
He’s equally surprised at how demand for river cruising overall has grown and expanded over the years, virtually forcing companies to increase their inventories to meet that demand, a factor that he’s more than happy to deal with and credits the river cruise industry as a whole for driving that demand.
“I’ve been to a lot of conferences over the last four or five weeks and frankly I’m just amazed at the amount of interest there is in river cruising. I mean as a segment, we’ve more than doubled in size over the last three or four years and it really is a fantastic way to see a destination and the customer feedback is just incredible,” Young says. “And I think all the river cruise companies probably spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy in marketing. All of us really are helping to drive the interest in river cruising and it’s getting to the point where agents understand that it’s working really very well.”
For more information on Uniworld, visit uniworld.com.
viking river cruises Viking River Cruises has probably the most ambitious plans for 2012, building six new ships—the much-vaunted long ships—and a major refurbishment on one of its ships in Russia, a destination they began operations in and where they’re doing some major promotions now.
“We’re doing very well, we’re very, very pleased. Egypt, obviously, isn’t doing well for us, but overall, business is doing quite well. We’ve had a great run for 2011 and forward sales for 2012 are looking even better,” says Richard Marnell, v.p., marketing. “We’re really quite pleased with the launch of the long ships, the additional two long ships that we added, in addition to the four we had originally planned, mainly because they sold so well.”
At the same time, he adds, “We’ve just re-launched Russia. We created a micro-site, therealrussia.com, and a mail piece that we’ve just put together on our re-launch of Russia and we’ve re-positioned ourselves in Russia and that’s going very, very well, as well. And China continues to do well for us and Vietnam, too. So overall, I’d have to say we’re extremely pleased and bullish on river cruising and certainly our future.”
Currently, Viking has 19 ships in Europe, one in China, one in Vietnam, plus they’re using two in Egypt and five in the Ukraine and Russia and that’s for the 2012 sailing season. And now they’re wrestling with a forecast for 2013.
Part of that forecasting very likely will be making a decision about Mekong expansion like everyone else. “We’re investigating our options and we haven’t decided. We will continue to be in Vietnam and we have a good partnership with Pandaw. That’s as concrete as I can be right now,” Marnell says. Still, he adds, “It’s doing very well. We’re very pleased from a quality delivery standpoint and so our customer satisfaction is high and our selling is very strong. So it’s a destination that’s here to stay. And it’s one that we’ll be focused on to develop further as time goes on.”
Like Clark, Marnell is mindful of the expansion of interest in river cruising, pointing out the company is seeing more people doing river cruising for the first time, despite the fact the demographics are the same. The ocean cruisers, Marnell admits, were the start, but now, he says, Viking is seeing more and more people from land programs who’ve “…recognized the benefit of unpacking only once and that the mode of transportation rather than the bus is something that’s extremely pleasant. Of course, the ocean cruisers—if you love ocean cruising, you’ll love river cruising—that’s a done deal. They’re locked in, they’ve been sort of the driving force in the category. But then with the land tour people, we’re starting to see more and more people who simply have an aversion to ocean cruising because you can’t get off the boat, because nothing’s included, because they’re floating casinos—whatever the reason may be—now they’re discovering river cruising and they’re discovering what an elegant way it is to transport yourself through some fantastic scenery, and see and really get to know a destination well.”