It’s no secret that river cruising has surged in popularity in recent years, with first-time cruisers and big-ship converts making the most of Europe’s and Asia’s most beautiful rivers. Gearing up for the busy summer season is Tauck River & Small Ship Cruising, which offers a wide array of itineraries on the Danube, Rhine, Rhone and Seine. We sit down with Katharine Bonner, Vice President of Tauck River & Small Ship Cruising to discuss the evolving marketplace, new trends and upcoming products.
1. What percentage of Tauck’s business is comprised of river cruising?
We don’t like to disclose detailed statistics for competitive reasons, but I can certainly tell you that river cruising is an increasingly large and important part of Tauck’s business. We launched our first new Tauck-branded riverboat in 2006 and our fleet has grown steadily and will total seven ships in 2015. While we’ve been thrilled to boost our capacity, and thus serve our agents and guests better, we’ve been very careful to do so in a carefully planned and managed way. Over the past 90 years Tauck has developed an incredible reputation for superior quality, all-inclusive travel experiences backed by superlative service, and we won’t risk that reputation by growing too quickly.
2. How have you seen the river cruising market evolve over the past 5 years?
River cruising has obviously seen tremendous growth with many, many new ships launched, new companies entering the market, and different regions and rivers being added to the mix. For example, we’ve expanded dramatically in France over the past several years, deploying a ship on the Rhone in 2011 for the first time, and adding our first-ever cruises on the Seine this year. Themed cruises have also become popular over the last several years, and to again use Tauck as an example, we now have special Christmas market cruises on the Rhine and Danube, a wine and culinary cruise on the Rhone, special family cruises on the Danube, Rhone and Rhine, and a classical music cruise on the Danube.
3. In your opinion, who is the ideal audience for this type of travel?
River cruising is perfect for anyone who wants a rich cultural exploration of Europe, and I think that’s one of the reasons why Tauck has been so successful with river cruising. We’ve been revealing the authentic, engaging cultural stories of different destinations for 90 years, and river cruising is simply another way for us to accomplish that same goal. Our river cruises provide the same insider access to unique, authentic experiences that Tauck guests have enjoyed on our land journeys since 1925. We provide the same high level of guest service that we’ve delivered for 90 years, and our river cruises are similarly all-inclusive, with zero options sold. So in many ways, the kinds of travelers we’ve been serving since 1925 are also the ideal audience for river cruises.
4. List any new destinations/cruises/ships you will be debuting in 2014/2015.
We have two new ships launching in 2014, which together comprise our new Inspiration Class ships: the ms Inspire, which launched on April 3, and the ms Savor, which is launching this June. Both ships have a capacity of just 130 guests, where other lines’ ships of the same length accommodate 46% more passengers, or 190 guests. With fewer guests, our new ships (like our existing Jewel Class vessels) will have a less-crowded, more relaxed and intimate ambiance. Each ship will also have eight 225 square-foot cabins featuring our innovative “loft” design, which is drawing rave reviews from our guests who have just sailed on the new Inspire. This year we’re also launching four new cruises: two on the Seine and one each on the Danube and Rhine. Next year we’ll be launching two more new cruises – the 23-day “Belle Epoch: London to Monte Carlo” on the Seine, Saone and Rhone, and our new Tauck Bridges family cruise on the Rhine.
5. If you had to recommend just one river cruise for travelers this year, which would it be and why?
I’d recommend our Christmas market cruises on the Danube and the Rhine. Just one-week cruises, these are specially priced for new river cruisers. Other than these specialty cruises, for the rest of this year we’re pretty limited to selected availability on some of our October departures. For the best choice of dates and itineraries, you really have to look to 2015 – and even those cruises are selling incredibly fast.