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This story originally ran in the March 15th, 2018 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — A boost in bookings from travel agents for clients in their late 40s, 50s and beyond may have helped sway Uniworld’s recent decision to lift the 21-45 age restriction on its U by Uniworld ships.
Just a few months ago, U by Uniworld introduced new ‘UToo’ departures that waived the 21-45 age restriction for eight dates.
The cruise line opened those sailings up to its trade partners to sell – and saw a significant spike in business as a result.
For any travel agent booking older clients on those UToo departures, Uniworld’s decision to drop the 21-45 age restriction was less of a surprise and more of a wise business move.
What was Uniworld hearing from its trade partners that clinched the decision to open up the U by Uniworld age range to a much deeper client base?
“Many of our trade partners were telling us that they have clients in their 40s and 50s who very were interested in the U concept and liked the contemporary stylish décor, U Time Excursions and fun onboard programming like paint & wine, silent disco, etc. but were just outside the age range,” says Michelle Palma, Uniworld’s VP – Field Sales, North America.
The target audience is virtually the same, she says. Only the age range has changed. “At this point, we have no plans to change our included meal or excursion programs. [And] we plan to keep the onboard programming exactly the same. This is the essence of what U by Uniworld is all about and that is what’s driving the demand in the market.”
Earlier this month the cruise line sent out word to its retail partners that effective immediately, U by Uniworld sailings – previously restricted to ages 21-45 and marketed heavily to Millennials – are now open to all adults of all ages. The cruise line’s two ships, The A and The B, set sail in April 2018 with four eight-day itineraries on the Rhine, Main, Danube and Seine Rivers.
Uniworld says it has made the changes to all of its trade and consumer websites and social media channels and is in the process of creating updated FAQs for front line teams.
Uniworld’s decision is ultimately good news especially given the record high demand for river cruise product, say agents.
Sandra McLeod with RedDoorTravel in LaSalle, ON says Uniworld made the right move.
“I thought it might limit interest by both customers and agents when it first came out,” said McLeod. “It’s a good idea to open up the age restriction. There is a very large and active Baby Boomer group that was left out of trying this new experience. These are also the customers that have more disposable income and time to travel.”
That’s not to say the 21-45s don’t travel well, says McLeod. But “the appeal of more modern ships, more active and immersive excursions, healthier food choices will attract a wide range of clientele.”
To minimize confusion between Uniworld’s boutique product and the U by Uniworld product, it will be important going forward to emphasize the differences between the ships and experiences, says McLeod.
Matthew Eichhorst, Global Cruise Leader for Expedia Inc. and President, Expedia CruiseShipCenters, is onboard with the decision as well. “U by Uniworld offers a new take on independent, experiential travel, and Uniworld’s decision to revise their age restriction will allow more like-minded adults to fully enjoy what this innovative new cruise line has to offer.”
Travel companies have been racing to deliver product to the coveted Millennial demographic. The oldest Millennials are now in their mid-to-late 30s and dedicated travellers from an early age.
The number of Millennials who say they ‘definitely will’ book a cruise for their next trip was up from 63% to 70% this year, according to CLIA’s 2018 consumer research.
CLIA says it’s also seeing Millennials develop a taste for luxury cruising. Their share of the premium and luxury cruise segments is higher than average, notes CLIA.
CLIA’s survey of favourite types of vacations showed that 8% of Millennials favour river cruises, more even than Gen Xers (3%), Baby Boomers (5%) and older Traditionalists (6%).
But family vacation opportunities are at a premium and that’s especially true for Millennials with young kids. While some Millennials may be lucky enough to convince the grandparents to babysit the little ones while they enjoy an adults-only getaway, most Millennial passengers in their 20s and 30s who have kids are looking for cruise options that are family-friendly.
Time is at a premium too. CLIA’s survey shows that 3 – 5 day cruises are most favoured by Millennials (39%), compared to 26% for Gen Xers, 14% for Boomers and 6% for Traditionalists.
It’s the older segments – the Boomers and the Traditionalists – who have the vacation time and inclination to embark on the longer durations more typical of European cruises.