It has been just over one year since Ellen Bettridge succeeded Guy Young as the president and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection—and what an exciting year it has been. From launching the Uniworld’s newest Super Ship, the S.S. Joie de Vivre, to announcing the line’s new experiential river cruise brand, U by Uniworld, Bettridge, a cruise industry veteran, is steering Uniworld into new waters.
Now, let’s take a look back at the line’s banner year with Bettridge herself.
Melissa Bryant (MB): There have been so many exciting developments in the past year, from Uniworld joining Sabre and launching the S.S. Joie de Vivre to announcing U by Uniworld. Tell me what accomplishment/s you are most proud of?
Ellen Bettridge (EB): I am proud of all our accomplishments, but my most memorable experience to date has been launching the S.S. Joie de Vivre this past spring in Paris. We had a beautiful christening ceremony lead by Godmother, Dame Joan Collins as we welcomed our newest Super Ship to the Seine River. We simultaneously launched sales for U by Uniworld, which is another initiative I am very excited about as U is truly the first and only product of its kind in the river cruise industry, introducing a younger demographic of travelers to river cruising.
MB: As a cruise industry veteran, how have you used your past knowledge/experiences to improve the Uniworld brand?
EB: I’ve been fortunate enough to have assumed many different roles throughout my career, all of which have given me the confidence and knowledge to not only succeed, but excel in the quickly evolving travel industry. When I joined the company I was eager to tell our story better. Uniworld has so many exciting things to talk about, but we really needed to bring it all together.
We sat down with our new creative agency—something we didn’t have when I started here—and began refining our messaging to really drive home who we are and what makes us unique. I’m proud of how our 2018 brochure and brand campaign exemplifies the new direction of how we communicate the key elements that set us apart, by delving deep into Uniworld’s history and narrating the story behind the design of each ship.
MB: On the heels of Uniworld targeting a new demographic, are there any other areas of growth/expansion that are on your immediate “to-do list”?
EB: We will continue enhancing and growing our European offerings, expanding our presence throughout the continent. My dream for U by Uniworld is for it to become so successful that we need to expand, turning two ships into four, and so on.
As far as Uniworld is concerned, we are already doing just that. This past spring, we launched the S.S. Joie de Vivre, the first Super Ship to sail the Seine River. Next year, the River Beatrice will undergo bow-to-stern renovations and commence sailing in April 2018 as the S.S. Beatrice—our fifth Super Ship. The Super Ship will sport a sleek new look with a new bow and lounge, alternate dining venues and a new grand staircase. The ship will also feature four amazing new suites, including two Owners Suites and two Royal Suites. In 2018, we are also expanding our existing partnership with Butterfield & Robinson to include itineraries on the Rhine River, and we are launching an entirely new itinerary on the Rhine that explores our Jewish heritage programming. We are also enhancing several of our existing itineraries to include new destinations for 2019.
MB: What are some of Uniworld’s most popular destinations, and are there any new destinations that you plan to expand into in the near future?
EB: European rivers continue to dominate, enticing both seasoned river cruisers and first-timers alike. The Danube and Rhine rivers are among the most popular and most traveled rivers in Europe. Exotic rivers are also on the rise, including the Mekong, Ganges and Nile rivers. These experiences combine authenticity with luxury to offer guests all-inclusive and immersive worldly experiences.
We expanded to the Ganges River in 2016 and this year we focused on enhancing our European offerings by expanding our prominence in France with the launch of the S.S. Joie de Vivre. We plan to continue to expand our European offerings and target demographic in 2018 with U by Uniworld, which will offer new itineraries on the Seine, Rhine, Main and Danube rivers for younger travelers.
We see Italy as an emerging destination and are currently the sole river cruise line operating on the Po with two 15-day itineraries: Splendors of Italy and Gems of Northern Italy. Venice is especially known for its canals and water routes, serving as methods of transportation through the city and we see incredible potential for the river cruise industry.
MB: What sort of river cruising trends are you seeing now/do you expect to gain momentum later this year or next year?
EB: As far as upcoming trends are concerned, we are leading the charge with U by Uniworld, allowing adventure-seeking travelers ages 21 to 45 to experience Europe completely differently than they are used to with our nine enticing European itineraries. This groundbreaking approach to experiential travel is transforming the travel industry paradigm by introducing an entirely new audience to river cruising.
Personalization and authenticity are key factors that luxury travelers look for in an experience today, which is why we pride ourselves on offering guests an array of programming and excursions that aren’t offered by other lines on the rivers—like our latest partnership with VizEat, allowing our guests to dine with locals in their homes. Other trends we are seeing include a rise in solo travel, as well as an increase in family travel. For this reason, Uniworld offers multigenerational departures on the most popular itineraries for families where kids ages 4 to 17 cruise for half-price, and Uniworld has waived or reduced the single supplement fee for solo travelers.
MB: With river cruising gaining momentum among travelers, how is Uniworld striving to make its river cruise experience in a class of its own? For example, beefing up inclusions.
EB: Uniworld adheres to a surpassed level of luxury and personalized service, with each ship in our fleet boasting immaculate decor to match the beauty and culture of the destinations traveled. Our relationship to sister company, the five-star Red Carnation Hotel Collection, enables us to tap into over 50 years of worldwide expertise in design and hospitable service, and something that separates us from our competition is that no two Uniworld ships are alike. Uniworld’s degree of personalization is enhanced even further with specialty themed cruises such as the Connoisseur Collection, available on itineraries such as Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateaux and ideal for Francophiles and lovers of French food and wine. Other themed cruises include our Jewish Heritage Cruises, Holiday Season Cruises and Generations Family Cruises.
Uniworld also offers bespoke excursions and partnerships that enhance itineraries and connect travelers to even more authentic and enriching experiences. This past year, Uniworld launched a partnership with VizEat, an innovative and immersive meal sharing platform, offering guests a curated selection of hosts in popular European cities for uniquely authentic culinary experiences. In 2018, we will move further to exist in a class of our own as we become the first river cruise line to design a product exclusively for travelers ages 21 to 45.