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“Luxury river will benefit from ocean’s capacity constraints”, says Uniworld CEO 

Ellen Bettridge, CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, believes the river sector is in a good place to benefit from increasing demand in the luxury ocean market, with guest numbers predicted to almost double in 2024

When asked by Cruise Trade News about her prediction for the river cruise industry, Bettridge said: “I think there’s going to be capacity restraints, especially in the luxury segment.

“Right now, [passenger numbers] are going from 600,000 to 1 million for people who will luxury ocean cruise this year, to me that’s an opportunity for the luxury space in river. We are going to run into capacity restraints of people who go on Explorer, Silverseas and Seabourne. They want that all-inclusive experience.”

Bettridge revealed that occupancy rates for 2024 are now similar to 2019 levels, with average prices up 14 per cent compared to five years ago. “We expect prices to climb another 4.5 per cent next year,” said Bettridge.

“It’s not stopping our demand. To maintain a level of quality, you do not add 10 ships at a time. I’m sorry, I just do not agree with that. We have a different level of expectation for our team and our guests have a level of expectation for us. For us it’s going to be a slow growth.”

“There is a lot of over marketing in river”, says Uniworld boss

Chris Townson, Uniworld managing director UK & Ireland, continued by saying now is an important time for the river cruise sector, but the trade still requires a greater understanding of the product.

“We’re at very early stages for education,” he said. “If you look 20 years ago, the trade didn’t really understand ocean. Cunard was the go-to but now a high percentage of trade really gets the difference between the brands in ocean.

“I think there is a lot of over marketing in river. Approximately 70 per cent [of CLIA RiverView Conference delegates] were new agents, they [represent] a huge learning curve but I think it’s very hard for them to understand [the difference between products].

“Everyone’s luxury, everyone’s this, everyone’s that but that’s not really the case. We work very closely with our partners so they can understand our USPs.”

Uniworld to host 50 agents on India fam trip

Townson also revealed the luxury river line will be hosting 50 travel agents on a fam trip to India this June, with partners being entered into a raffle based on the number of sales they make.

“We’ve allocated some space to top partners to grow our partnership with UK agents.” Townson added. “It’s about building a relationship and [rewarding] volume of sales.”

Uniworld announced earlier today (13 March) it will launch a new ship in Europe in 2026, with new build vessel, SS Emilie, inspired by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt and named after his partner Emilie Flöge.

Speaking to Cruise Trade News, Bettridge said the line has “taken the best elements” of its other vessels, but will ensure the new ship “remains elegant and functional”.

“Technology is going to be very important,” she added. “We had a record-breaking year last year and we’re expecting another record-breaking year in 2024.”

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