Luxury river cruise operator, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, has wound up the 2018 season achieving an all-time high number of guests on board its ships. Sales from the Australian market have grown by double-digits again, says Managing Director for Australia, Fiona Dalton, and there’s plenty instore for 2019.
With just a few weeks remaining in the calendar year, Dalton told LATTE she has been very thankful for all that’s happened, both in Australia and across the globe. The Australian market consolidated its position as Uniworld’s number-two source market globally, after the US and ahead of Canada.
“My team in Australia are very proud of this achievement, as they should be. We’re also delighted with the take-up of our French river cruises in 2018, with the SS Joie De Vivre operating at near 100% capacity for the season, and the SS Catherine on the Rhone not far behind,” Dalton said.
Reflecting on the past 12 months, she highlighted another surprise was Egypt bookings. “The strength with which sales from Australia on our Egypt river cruises returned this year was fabulous to see, and for U by Uniworld the highlight for me was definitely the moment when TIME inc. included ‘The A’ as one of their 100 hottest new places to stay in 2018. How cool is that?”
Dalton said there hadn’t been a noticeable shift in passengers from the legacy Uniworld brand to the new experiential U by Uniworld product.
“A Uniworld guest has a different guest profile to a U by Uniworld guest, and in its own way Uniworld remains very experiential too. What we did see was a whole new generation of people who hadn’t considered river cruising before take the plunge to experience a week on the rivers with U by Uniworld on their summers holidays in Europe, and they loved it!”
“Given it was our inaugural season we’ve been listening and learning very intently to our guests, and we’re responding with tweaks to the U by Uniworld experience that will take it to a whole next level in 2019.”
She said the “most interesting” trend witnessed during the 2018 season was the increase in the number of second- and third-time river cruisers coming to Uniworld for the first time, “looking to us to include an eight- to 14-day immersive river experience as a part of their European vacation”.
“In turn, we’ve reduced the number of traditional Amsterdam to Budapest departures we offer, and really focused on developing these shorter new itineraries that are true to our vision of delivering the most immersive experiences on the rivers today.
“Another unexpected trend was the popularity of the newly launched Jewish Heritage options on our Remarkable Rhine itinerary, eagerly embraced by the market here in Australia, so much so we’ve added some Jewish Heritage elements to our Danube river cruises for 2019 as well,” Dalton said.
Low river levels across parts of Europe in the last few months of the year has seen a swift response from Uniworld.
“Our guests understand the low water levels this year are unprecedented. We’ve been transparent, nimble and flexible in the management of the issue and on the whole, the feedback has been very positive.
“The biggest challenge has been the unpredictability of the river levels which requires us to amend plans sometimes at short notice, but our amazing crew who are the backbone of our operation, and our head office team, have been marvellous in how the communication has been managed with our guests,” Dalton explained.
“In fact, our global CEO Ellen Bettridge and I received a letter just last week from an American who currently lives in Australia who has been in customer service both in the US and here for over 25 years who wanted to let us know that his experience with us in October was the greatest example of exemplary customer service he has ever witnessed. He also said that even with a deviation and a ship swap on his cruise he had more fun than he was expecting and that it was the best holiday he’d ever taken. It requires great teamwork to achieve these results, and that’s something that our passionate and dedicated crew have in spades.”
Dalton said that there is much to look forward to for the 2019 season, including the launch of the new Super Ship, SS Bon Voyage, that will debut in Bordeaux in April.
“She’ll have more suites, new public spaces, new marble bathrooms, a stunning rooftop pool and cafe area and a whole new vibe inspired by the beautiful region of France, in which she sails. I am cruising on her in April so I am very excited to see her.
“We’re also introducing a new ship to our China program in 2019, the luxurious and intimate Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer, which is much more befitting for our guests in China. We’ve also announced new ships for Portugal, Egypt, Russia and the Mekong for 2020 and beyond so we will be busy finalising the details for each of these projects too.
“On a personal note, I am excited to be heading up to India in early January to enjoy our beautiful 13/12-night itinerary beginning in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur then with seven nights on the Ganges Voyager II, complete with our resident yogi onboard. I know it will be a good chance to rest, recharge and re-energise in what is arguably one of the most spiritual places on the planet.
“It’s been a very busy year and no doubt next year will be equally so, however, I end the year feeling a sense of great gratitude and good fortune to be in this role. Indeed, I feel blessed to be able to do what I do,” she said.
Lead image: River Countess in Venice