Travel Professional NEWS® speaks with Ellen Bettridge, President and CRO, Uniworld River Cruise Collection
What do you expect to be your most popular ships in 2017?
I predict that our newest Super Ship—the S.S. Joie de Vivre, debuting this spring on the Seine River in France—will be the talk of the industry. All our ships are beautiful and completely one-of-a-kind, but this one also has that WOW factor that our Super Ships are famous for. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever done before, with design features not found on any other Uniworld ship. The décor was inspired by 20th-century Parisian design from the Golden Twenties to the Sixties, and the modern amenities are so innovative—for example, the ship’s Le Club L’Éspirit has a pool that can transform into an indoor/outdoor cinema and nightclub. Also, this ship is more intimately scaled than our other Super Ships, carrying a maximum of 128 guests, so it can dock right in the heart of Paris.
What do you expect to be your most popular itineraries in 2017?
We’ve had a great deal of interest in two cruises in particular. The first is our new 8-day “”Rhine-Main Discovery & Munich” itinerary, which can actually be experienced in three completely different ways. You can do the standard itinerary, which has a wonderful choice of shore excursions. You can do our new Jewish Heritage themed cruise—the only one on the Rhine—which we offer as a complimentary alternative to the standard itinerary. Or you can opt for our award-winning Generations family program, available on two departures this summer.
The interest in our Jewish Heritage cruise has been overwhelming, well beyond our expectations. Our goal was to design an in-depth, balanced program that showcases Jewish culture and history in Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland. Not just what’s happened in the past, but what’s going on today and what’s on the horizon for the future. It’s a great itinerary.
The other cruise generating a lot of interest is our 8-day “Paris & Normandy” itinerary, which has been newly enhanced for 2017 with a choice of excursions offered by no other river cruise line—including golfing at Golf d’Étretat, an absolutely stunning course set along the cliffs of the Alabaster Coast. That’s right, golfing. On a river cruise.
With Travel Professionals on the rise, will you be offering any new training or incentives for Travel Professionals to focus on your line?
This one is near and dear to my heart because I started out as a travel agent myself and feel intimately acquainted with the needs and aspirations of the agent community. We value our travel agent partners so highly that we’ve developed the most engaging, user-friendly River Cruise Specialist training course possible just for them—Uniworld University—which launches at the end of this month [January 2017]
What three things do you feel set your product apart from the competition?
Our boutique ships, for starters. They’re all one-of-a-kind, designed with their own unique theme and art and color palette, with special touches that reflect the region they serve.
Service is another one. We’re known for our impeccable service and our staff even has a service-related motto: “No request too large, no detail too small.” That pretty much says it all, right? We have the best in-suite butlers on the rivers of Europe and we also have one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in river cruising. Our guests know they’re going to be treated like royalty from the moment they step aboard.
Giving guests choices, that also sets us apart. As we like to say, no two destinations are alike and no two Uniworld guests are either. So we give them as many opportunities as possible to tailor their cruise to their unique interests and travel style. We offer a number of themed cruises—family cruises, cruises for wine lovers and foodies, holiday season cruises, Jewish Heritage, and our Monarch Collection, which highlights Europe’s royal legacy. Our menu of shore excursions is second to none, with a diverse range of innovative and authentic cultural experiences, many offered by no other company.
There has been a big increase in active River Cruising, what activities are currently being offered on your line? What may be next?
We have an incredibly robust “Go Active” program that includes things like cycling, hiking, river kayaking and golfing. Our Generations cruises for families have some fantastic active choices as well, including gondola rowing in Venice, zip-lining and tree canopy climbs in Germany, stand-up paddle-boarding—all sorts of great stuff.
What generational market do you see your line focusing on as the capacity continues to grow? Do you have plans to focus on any specific market segment of River Cruise passengers?
We’ll have nine itineraries this year offering our Generations family program. It’s a hugely popular program because there’s literally something for everyone—young children, tweens and teens, parents and grandparents. Which got us thinking…what about the 18 to 40- year-olds? Why should they miss out on all the fun? So we’re launching a new brand in 2018 called U by Uniworld, offering immersive and adventurous travel experiences for the “next gen” of river cruisers. Now we really have something for everyone: Generations cruises for travelers aged 4 to 17. U by Uniworld for travelers 18 to 40. Uniworld for travelers 40+. No other river cruise line offers what we now offer.
What three things would you like to share with our Travel Professionals to assist in selling your line?
I’d emphasize the boutique aspect of our ships, which are unlike any other product in the river cruise market. Each ship is completely unique, with original art, fine antiques and special personalized touches to make our guests feel completely welcome and comfortable and pampered.
Our service is another differentiator, as are our numerous awards and accolades. Having the sort of third-party validation that we do speaks volumes. For example, Uniworld was voted the “world’s #1 river cruise line” by the readers of Travel + Leisure. We’re very proud of that recognition and we’re devoted to maintaining the highest standards in this industry.
Many Travel Professionals have found their niche in River Cruising, what advice can you offer to a Travel Professional looking to break into this niche?
My best advice is to become a Uniworld River Cruise Specialist via our new online training course, Uniworld University. I also strongly encourage travel agents to take advantage of our generously discounted travel agent rates. They’re an incredible deal, up to 75% off the regular cruise fare. There is simply no better way to appreciate what make Uniworld so unique than to experience one of our cruises firsthand.
Predicting the future is difficult, but what do you think is next for the River Cruising market?
I’d say a broader demographic. River cruising offers so many advantages to travelers of all ages, such as the convenience of a floating boutique hotel, all-inclusive pricing, step-to-shore access to top cultural sites, like-minded fellow travelers, itineraries that showcase Europe’s most on-trend and dynamic cities, etc. That’s why we intend to be the first river cruise line to directly market to the 18-40 demographic with our new U by Uniworld brand. We couldn’t be more excited to introduce a whole new generation to the joys of river cruising.