The Voice of the Cruise Industry

In conversation with: TUI River Cruises’ Abi Devaney

Abi Devaney, river cruise, travel, TUI River Cruises

In March, TUI will celebrate the launch of its dedicated river cruise ships. Gary Peters joins general manager of TUI River Cruises Abi Devaney to discover how it intends to stand out among the competition.

Picture the scene. TUI headquarters – the hustle and bustle of approximately 2,000 people working across a range of departments. In one small corner, eight people are keeping one eye on a countdown clock, ticking ever closer to a very special date.

The date – 23 March – is the official launch day for TUI River Cruises; the day when plans become reality, as the new river line unveils its three 155-passenger ships – TUI Isla, TUI Skyla and TUI Maya, in Amsterdam.

Abi Devaney, river cruise, travel, TUI River Cruises
TUI’s Abi Devaney

Despite being a couple of months away [at the time of writing], the TUI team is painfully aware that time flies. “The team will probably say I am the least busy, here having coffee, talking about our product,” says TUI River Cruises general manager, Abi Devaney. “We say internally that we are like a start-up in a big business.”

That – being part of the TUI Group – obviously has its advantages, whether its resource or using existing experience from the Marella ocean brand. However, Devaney and her colleagues are not resting on their laurels.

“The most obvious challenge for a new business is getting the name out there,” adds Devaney. “For us it’s about building on the right foundations and growing sustainably. We need to make sure we are really connected with the industry so that when challenges do come up we are tackling them as a whole industry.”

The river family

Despite a desire to work collaboratively with other river lines, there is a need for TUI to differentiate their offering and compete in what is a fast-growing sector of cruise.

This is not lost on Devaney: “Well we are definitely the new kids on the block – that’s what I hear all the time. For us our whole product proposition is around freedom and choice – that’s our concept.

“Our flagship piece is the £120 excursion credit package, which is included in the price of the holiday. This allows guests to pick and choose what they want to do in each destination, whether that’s exploring on their own or choosing from a range of excursions we have on offer. Rather than other lines that say, ‘excursions are included, but this is the one you go on each day’, we want to give guests the option.”

river cruise, travel, TUI River Cruises, Danube
Budapest is bisected by the Danube, one of TUI’s destinations.

However, freedom of choice is much broader than that, as Devaney describes. “It’s about being able to select an individual cabin rather than just the cabin type, for example.

“We’re launching with full-board plus as standard, so drinks are included with meals. But if all-inclusive is important, guests can upgrade for a small fee. It’s about picking all of those different things – favourite beer, cocktail and so on.”

An explorer mindset

As Devaney admits, river cruising “does lean towards a more mature customer”, but the line is trying to broaden appeal to what it calls guests with an “explorer mindset”. That, says Devaney, could be defined as a guest exploring a destination on their own, taking a TUI excursion or simply enjoying the views on the top deck on a sun lounger.

An important note is that TUI River Cruises is an adults-only proposition. So, for now, no children. “We made that decision at the beginning,” explains Devaney. “They are fairly small ships and the laid back vibe that we want could be a little disrupted by having little ones on.”

Is the line not missing out on the burgeoning multi-gen market, however? Short and sweet, is the reply: “For the moment, with a new product, we’re focusing on adults and maybe we will think about that in the future.”

European adventures

As for the here and now, TUI River Cruises will be taking guests across some of Europe’s finest rivers, with itineraries on the likes of the Danube, Rhine, Moselle, and Dutch and Belgian waterways.

The seven-night Rhine Gems cruise on TUI Isla, for example, starts from £1,099pp, and will call at Koblenz, Mainz and Mannheim, among others, while the Dutch Delights voyage, from £1,199pp, again on TUI Isla, will visit Utrecht, Antwerp, Rotterdam, and more.

 “European river cruising is our core,” says Devaney. “The Eastern Danube itineraries are becoming increasingly popular, which features some of the hidden gems. But there’s always popularity for what might be called the big hitters. We have a 14-night itinerary that takes guests from Amsterdam to Budapest – that is an all-star itinerary.”

river cruise, travel, TUI River Cruises, Utrecht, Holland
The Dutch Delights itinerary includes the historic wonders of Utrecht

In short, there’s plenty for the trade to get their teeth into, including the opportunity to see the ships in the flesh later this year. “The trade is really excited,” adds Devaney. “We’ve been busy getting all the information ready, in terms of launch packs, training and so on.

“Of course we want to get agents on our ships. As part of our launch plans, we are running three educational sailings. We’re still working on invite lists for that and later on in the season we hope to get more people on.”

For now, attention is firmly fixed on the March launch. The clock is ticking.

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