Trade’s perception of river cruising ‘behind the curve’, says Uniworld chief

Uniworld’s UK boss believes there is still some way to go to change trade perceptions of river cruising, which is “behind the curve” compared with ocean cruising.

Managing director Chris Townson hopes events such as the first Ultra-Luxury Cruise Showcase will boost agents’ understanding of the sector, in turn leading to increased awareness and sales.

“I’ve been in this sector a long time and have seen ocean cruising change and develop over the years,” he said. “But river cruising is still in the early stages of its transformation.

“If we rewind 25 years, people saw cruise purely as black tie and old people – it was seen as stuffy. Then the likes of Royal Caribbean and Celebrity came along and the whole thing changed.

“In river cruising we’re behind that curve. The understanding from the trade is still not quite there. That’s why we have to do as many of these events as possible to change that and bring the products to life.”

Speaking on board Uniworld’s Joie de Vivre, Townson said Clia and Travel Weekly were also playing a vital role in increasing the trade’s knowledge about different river cruise lines and their offerings.

He went on to praise agents for their role in promoting Uniworld to their clients, which he described as “our sole business model”.

“The cruise industry is really engaged with Clia and Travel Weekly in educating and working with the trade, and that is working tremendously well,” he added.

“If you go back 20 years, agents were mis-selling products and not quite understanding them. Now, 90% really get the differences between the various cruise lines, which will only be enhanced by this kind of event.”

Townson said he feels the cruise sector has historically been guilty of overmarketing, which can be “confusing” for agents and consumers, and hopes events with a “targeted approach” such as the Ultra-Luxury Cruise Showcase will help distinguish brands’ differences.

“We [cruise lines] all talk the same language, but we each have different USPs and approaches,” he said.

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