Uniworld optimistic for MSC Cruises resolution

2020 sees the arrival of multiple news ships on the Mekong, Douro and Nile

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s Global CEO Ellen Bettridge says she is hopeful of a resolution “soon than later” in the suit against MSC Cruises regarding the damage to the River Countess in Venice, Italy last year.

The river cruise vessel was forced out of action from June through to late September, with Bettridge last month saying that extensive conversations with MSC to compensate Uniworld for its losses have been “unproductive”.

On Monday, speaking with LATTE, Bettridge said Uniworld was “continuing to have conversations with them and really optimistic that we will come to some kind of conclusion.”

“It’s been a long [time]… it happened on 2 June. It’s definitely taken up a lot of my time and I’d rather spend my time focussed on my partners and growing my business,” she remarked.

“Unfortunately we had to cancel a lot of cruises and disrupt a lot of people’s holidays, which was very disappointing for us, but she came back at the end of the season for the end of September and October.”

Planned well before the accident with MSC Opera in Venice, River Countess has been upgraded over the winter months in Europe to the Super Ship (SS) La Venezia, and is on track for launch next month. Bettridge says the overhauled vessel remains “unique” to the river cruise market, the only one dedicated to the waters of Venice.

“No one else is offering a cruise in the heart of the region.”

Bettridge says Uniworld has immersed La Venezia into the destination. “We really wanted to bring Venice to life onboard the ship.”

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's Mekong Jewel - Launched in January 2020

Speaking of new additions, in January Uniworld launched the Mekong Jewel in Vietnam and Cambodia. The product has been selling “incredibly well” in all markets, Bettridge said. The ship is 10-metres longer than traditional river ships operating on the Mekong, but Uniworld held back on adding extra cabins to provide guests with more space.

“Feedback so far has been phenomenal,” she said.

Uniworld was also expecting to introduce a new ship in Egypt last month, the SS Sphinx, however a fire at the shipyard during the final stages of construction in December has resulted in the delivery of that vessel being delayed until Q3 of 2020.

“The fire was extensive unfortunately and there was no way we could operate in the first part of the year and over summer, so we made the decision to push her to September.”

“We were very fortunate that we have the River Tosca in Egypt. it’s a stunning vessel and we were able to get most of our customers rebooked and taken care of, which worked out very favourably in that perspective, because once again, we never want to disrupt anyone’s holiday,” Bettridge told LATTE.

Uniworld will continue to charter the River Tosca in Egypt until the delivery of SS Sphinx

“We were so fortunate that most of our guests understood that we didn’t start the fire. It’s all about ensuring we could give them the best holiday we could provide, which was very important to us.

“The Super Ship Sphinx will launch in September and she’ll be ready to go.”

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's SS Sao Gabriel - Launching in April 2020

In April, Uniworld will also add a newbuild vessel on the Douro in Portugal, the SS São Gabriel. Bettridge says Portugal is a “hot” market for river cruises, and SS São Gabriel will lift the bar in the luxury offering in the region, with the ship featuring an entire top deck dedicated to suites and more restaurants. Uniworld will also offer butler service on the Douro for the first time.

“We want to ensure that Uniworld is the luxury brand of choice in Portugal,” she said.

Bettridge also revealed to LATTE that the Amazon charter of Aqua Expeditions’ ship in late 2020 has been an overwhelming success. Read more in LATTE Cruise next week.

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