Avalon Waterways will expand its European footprint into a new waterway utilising its existing luxury fleet of ships, Pam Hoffee, President of the river cruise operator has revealed. Speaking exclusively with LATTE yesterday ahead of her keynote presentation at CLIA Australasia’s Cruise360 conference in Brisbane this week, Hoffee was tightlipped on the specific details as to where, or when, only hinting: “We do have a new river coming very soon. It is in Europe, I’ll say that much.”
The Avalon Waterways veteran of 20 years said the new destination will make use of excess capacity on the lower Danube that is still impacted by the geopolitical situation — namely the conflict between Russia and Ukraine — that has softened demand for that region and is yet to fully restored compared to pre-pandemic levels.
With 14 ships in its current fleet, Hoffee told LATTE Avalon Waterways intends to grow further, but is eagerly awaiting the design of new eco-friendly vessels for the rivers.
“We are definitely looking to expand our fleet. It’s in our future. Our goal is that we would love to have it work out that the timing to expand our fleet happens with the next big innovation in sustainability happens.”
Hoffee said Avalon’s new ship for the Douro will have the highest level of ‘green award’ available when it launches in 2024, making it the most sustainable on the river in Portugal.
“But the goal for future river ships is to be fully electric – that’s our aim, and we’ve been holding off on the next big change in our fleet in the hope that innovation is coming soon,” she said, aspiring for the next two or so years.
Hoffee said that if that next big innovation isn’t forthcoming in the next few years Avalon Waterways’ will look to adopt the same green technology being used with its ship on the Douro, utilising the newest and most efficient engines that are available at the time.
The Denver-based cruise leader added she’d also like to lift capacity on the Nile. Currently, Avalon has cabins on a luxury ship in Egypt and that space is “already almost sold out for 2024.”
“Finding a way to have more capacity there is on my radar too,” she said, but that won’t be a new Avalon ship, she admits, believing a four-night itinerary is ample time to explore the Nile, rather than the standard seven night journey.
Quizzed about future destination expansion beyond Europe, and potentially the USA, Hoffee said the Mississippi is not on the horizon.
“I’ll never say never, but we’re not racing ahead to do it,” noting the complexities of sailing on that waterway including having the ship built in the US.
More broadly, demand for Avalon Waterways has been soaring, with the operator achieving a record first quarter of sales earlier this year. Riding the wave of demand, in May Avalon added new Festive Season sailings for later this year and extended its 2024 season into November on the Seine and Rhône Rivers.
“River cruising and Avalon Waterways in particular is having a phenomenal comeback coming out of COVID.”
Demand was increasing for off-season travel, so departures were added in Autumn aboard two ships in France.
“The weather seems to be milder in the fall than what we thought in our mind in the past,” she said, echoing sentiments from the recent Virtuoso Travel Week panel discussion on trends and climate change.
“People are tolerating the idea of offseason travel a little bit more enthusiastically,” Hoffee said.
Small ship cruising is one of the keys to why river cruising is seeing such success. That and flexibility, Hoffee said.
“Flexibility is what’s on everyone’s mind these days. Guests want what they want and that’s really been a driver for us along with the style of cruising that we offer. This style of relaxed luxury of choice, people are really drawn to that. Another piece of that puzzle is our Active & Discovery style of cruising.”
The development of the Active & Discovery collection six years ago has also opened Avalon Waterways up to the younger Gen-X traveller, Hoffee said.
“There are quite a few reasons that river cruising and Avalon are doing so incredibly well. Pent-up demand to travel as well coming out of COVID is certainly a piece of the puzzle.”
Behind the United States, Australia is usually Avalon Waterways’ second largest source market. Currently, the region is third behind Canada – the nation Australia often rubs shoulders with over rankings rights. And it’s those English-speaking markets which are a winning formula for Avalon Waterways, says Hoffee.
“I really love that about our brand and it’s something our guests love. We’re not an American brand, or an Australian brand, or Canadian brand. Our guests from all over the world and it’s something that I frequently hear when I’m talking to our customers… how much they love that when they come on board they meet people from all over the world.”
“It’s definitely a multicultural experience and not just one country dominating the ship.”
Australian travellers tend to opt for Avalon’s 14-day itinerary between Budapest toandmsterdam, along with an itinerary in France that combines voyages on the Rhone and the Seine.