Making Waves – Wendy Wu Tours

Joe Sutcliffe - Mekong

Wendy Wu Tours has set sail with a new Asia river cruise programme. Commercial director Joe Sutcliffe explains why.


It’s only been a few months since Wendy Wu Tours unveiled its new Asia river cruise brochure and commercial director Joe Sutcliffe is a happy man. “It is early days and a new product for us, but it is selling,” he beams.

The new brochure launched in early March, offering river cruises as part of longer tours of China and South-East Asia, including India. If clients just want to do a river cruise, this is not the product for them; if they want an expert to guide them around Asia and the Orient, and like the idea of a being able to take a break in the middle of the touring, you have come to the right place.

Wendy Wu Tours was founded in Australia 22 years ago by Wendy Wu herself, an entrepreneur who spotted a gap in the market for a tour company that specialised in group tours in China. It was so successful that four years later, in 1998, she opened a UK office and has since taken the business also to the US.

The rest would be history, except it isn’t because over the years the company has continually evolved to satisfy the needs of its many repeat passengers – a testament to the firm’s competence and professionalism.
RV MekongFirst South-East Asia was added to the portfolio, then about four years ago the company added a tailor-made department to cater for people who wanted Wendy Wu’s expertise but shied away from group tours. And now comes the river cruise brochure, a chunky programme featuring cruise-and-tour holidays that will appeal to both older travellers and those with a more adventurous spirit (see box).

Sutcliffe said: “We offer voyages on the Yangtze in our China tour programme but this is our first dedicated river cruise brochure. It follows feedback from our customers, who told us the option of a river cruise often dictated their choice of holiday in China. They also said they would like to do more river cruising.”

The programme is designed to appeal to two different sections of the market. On the one hand there are group tours for about 25 people with pre-set departure dates; on the other private tours targeted at couples or groups of friends who want to travel together but not in a big group (although they will be with others on the cruise sector of the holiday). Private tour itineraries are pre-set but departure dates are flexible to suit the client.

Sutcliffe said group tours now account for about 70% of Wendy Wu’s business, with tailor-made and private touring equally making up the remaining 30%. However, he emphasises that group bookings have not dropped; rather the other two sectors have grown.

He said: “People are more adventurous these days. Many have travelled a lot and are comfortable outside the group environment.” Age is also a factor. Those opting for tailor-made or private tours are in their 40s and 50s, while group departures mostly attract clients aged over 60 years old, and also solo travellers who like having other people to travel with. Single supplements start at around 10% and the company also offers a share scheme where they will pair solo travellers up so they can avoid the extra charge altogether.

Some 70% of Wendy Wu bookings come through the trade, so agents are ‘vital’, according to Sutcliffe. The company’s John Warr heads up a trade sales team of five people who are on the road across the UK and Ireland to provide support and training for retailers. Going forward, Sutcliffe hopes to organise fam trips so agents can experience the new river cruise product.

River cruising in Asia
The Yangtze in China and Mekong in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are among the highlights of Wendy Wu Tours’ new Asia river cruise programme.

The brochure features 16 cruise-tour itineraries, four of which are for groups. These are on the Mekong, Yangtze and the Ayeyarwady in Myanmar. There are private tours on these rivers and also the less well-known Chindwin in Myanmar, Red River in Northern Vietnam and Brahmaputra in Eastern India.

Cruising is mostly with Pandaw, although clients booking the Brahmaputra will sail on the Mahabaahu, a river boat owned by Indian company Far Horizon Tours, and those choosing China will sail the Yangtze with Victoria Cruises.

Prices start from £2,690 per person including flights for a 10-day Ultimate Yangtze holiday that pairs a tour of Shanghai and a visit to the Panda Conservation Centre in Chengdu with four nights on the river.

For a more upmarket holiday, the 11-day Yangtze in Style includes a four nights on Sanctuary Retreats luxurious Yangzi Explorer from £4,040 per person including flights.

For those seeking an adventure, a 20-day cruise on the Upper Mekong from Vientiane in Laos to Kunming in China costs from £7,290 per person including flights. Commercial director Joe Sutcliffe said: There is a lot here that will appeal to younger people; our challenge is to get that message across.”

The programme also features a nine-day itinerary combining two nights on a houseboat on the Kerala Backwaters in India with time on a beach and in Cochin. From £1,610 per person including flights.

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