This is an exciting time in river cruising, particularly for Uniworld, which is sailing full steam ahead with several new initiatives. In addition to welcoming its fifth ‘Super Ship’ next year, the company has been the talk of the town for its new millennial-focused river cruise line, U by Uniworld. We asked Michelle Palma, VP Sales – Canada about these new developments, and how river cruising has evolved into the powerhouse industry it is today.
1. There are so many new projects in the works at Uniworld, including the upcoming debut of U by Uniworld, which is being dubbed the river cruise line for millennials. In your opinion, why is now a good time to target millennials, especially considering river cruising is typically favoured by baby boomers and the 50+? Did you think there was a void in the market that needed to be filled?
Now is the time to target millennials for so many reasons. Not only are they the fastest growing segment of the travel market, but they’re also passionate about experiential travel and they want to cruise with other likeminded travellers their age.
We did a great deal of research before embarking on this new path. Millennials told us they like the idea of taking a cruise, but don’t want to be surrounded by Baby Boomers and families. We’ve created the perfect environment for them to travel through Europe with unique, experiential shore excursions and enjoy a wide range of fun, engaging onboard activities.
2. How will U by Uniworld cater to a younger clientele specifically? And what has been the feedback so far from agents and clients?
We’ve taken a completely new approach to river cruising by offering excursions and programs for a younger traveller. To start, the daily excursions begin much later because we know they want to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast and/or recover from a late night of pub crawls and clubbing. There will be much more overnighting in ports so guests can get off the ship and experience the local nightlife.
We’ve also started to provide “U Time” excursions where we give guests their entrance tickets, maps and transit tickets or bikes, and they head off to explore and experience the excursions independently. They have total flexibility to go on their own or with their friends onboard.
Our onboard programming is much different as well. We’ve replaced Signature Lectures and culinary demonstrations with paint & wine classes, silent disco and mixology classes. What was formerly known as the Sun Deck is now called the Roof Top and is where guest DJ’s will get the night started onboard for fun outdoor parties.
The feedback from the trade has been nothing short of phenomenal – the level of excitement over this new brand has been fantastic. Everyone we talk to is very excited about promoting U by Uniworld to their millennial clients.
3. A fifth ‘Super Ship’ is in the pipeline for 2018. Can you tell us more about it?
The beautiful Beatrice will be our first vessel ever to be upgraded to a Super Ship. This includes a complete redesign of all our public spaces as well as staterooms and new guest amenities. The increase in demand for suites and connecting staterooms is driving the addition of two new Royal Suites, one Owner’s Suite, and connecting staterooms to appeal to families travelling together. Additional dining venues, a sleek new bow, and an elegant grand staircase are also being planned. The S.S. Beatrice’s inaugural voyage will take place on April 4, 2018 and we couldn’t be more excited!
4. There’s been much talk in the industry about the increasing popularity of river cruising in Asia. Have you seen an increase in Asia bookings? And what would you attribute this to?
We are definitely seeing an increase in demand for Asia, specifically out of the Canadian market. Vietnam & Cambodia have seen the strongest growth over the past couple of years. One of the reasons we’ve seen such growth is the launch of our brand new all-suite ship the Mekong Navigator in January of this year, which is hands down the most luxurious ship sailing the Mekong River. Feedback from our travel agent partners is that clients are looking for more exotic, experiential destinations. They’re checking off Bucket List items and Vietnam & Cambodia are safe, friendly countries that provide incredible value.
5. Finally, 10 years ago, river cruising and ocean cruising were two vastly different products. But now with river cruises offering more luxury options, and ocean cruising becoming more niche, the gap between the two is becoming narrower each year. Would you agree? Why or why not? And in your words, how would you define river cruising today?
I would definitely agree. The river cruise market today is vastly different from where it was two or five years ago, let alone 10 years ago. The last few years have seen tremendous growth in terms of capacity, new entrants into the market, and positioning within the river cruise segment. Each river cruise line has had to clearly define their target audience, whether it’s the first-time river cruise client, the mass-market audience or the luxury traveller. I think it’s been a bit overwhelming for the travel agents as they are being inundated with so many messages as some companies try to be “everything to everybody.” Fortunately for us, that’s where we really stand out from the crowd because we are completely different and unique from any other river cruise line in the market.
One of our biggest challenges at Uniworld has been to educate our agency partners on what I like to call the “Uniworld Difference”:
This is what makes us so special and what truly defines our brand.