Big Interview: New Uniworld boss sets out UK expansion plans

Big Interview: New Uniworld boss sets out UK expansion plans

New UK head aims to double Uniworld’s business in this country and change the way the brand talks to the trade. Harry Kemble reports

Uniworld’s UK managing director is looking to boost the river cruise brand’s profile in Britain by re-evaluating how the line speaks to the trade.

In the first three weeks after taking up his role in October, Chris Townson went on five Uniworld ships and youth cruise brand U by Uniworld’s The B ship.

Now he has set to work aiming to increase Uniworld’s business from the UK market from 10% to 20%.

Over 12 years Townson expanded river cruise and touring specialist Scenic and sister brand Emerald Waterways from just two people to a company of 60. He now hopes to repeat the feat with Uniworld and U by Uniworld.

Townson said: “What appealed to me was that Uniworld is a small player in the UK marketplace by quite a way in terms of distribution and trade.

“Coming here was an opportunity to redevelop the marketplace. I have free reign to build the brand.

“I have to do that within the brand guidelines, but we have to talk to the UK audience as a UK audience. It is all a bit Americanised for my liking.

“We will talk to any business in a way that they understand. At the end of the day, we are the Regent Seven Seas of the river cruise world, but we are not talking in those terms.”

Of Uniworld’s 40 core travel agent partners, 20 are looking at selling U by Uniworld sailings.

Townson has spoken to 20 other partners during his two months in the job in a bid to attract new-to-cruise passengers.

Potential partner

London-based travel agent Forever Cruises, winner of the rising stars category at last year’s Clia Cruise Excellence Awards, is one partner Townson is keen to bring onside to help sell U by Uniworld cruises.

“They have got a huge hold of the millennial business,” Townson added. “They have got that audience.

“We are relatively new, so it is going to take time and effort.”

Uniworld’s president and chief executive Ellen Bettridge told the Clia River Cruise Conference in November that UK bookings for the company’s youth cruise brand U by Uniworld had been “light”.

Townson is not alarmed by the comment. He, like Bettridge, believes wholeheartedly in the U by Uniworld product, adding the millennial-only concept is a “groundbreaking” one.

“I launched Emerald in the UK from nothing to where it is today,” he said. “U by Uniworld’s product is a luxury one. We have got a lot of partners in Oxford and Cambridge. We are going after students with money, but we have got partners in other areas too.”


Lucy Horne to head southern sales force

Uniworld has employed Lucy Hone as the brand’s UK sales manager in the south of England.

Hone will report to Dave Chidley, the national sales manager, when she begins her role on January 2.

Hone previously worked at Scenic and Emerald Waterways with Chris Townson during his time as UK managing director for the sister brands.

James Howlett covers the north of England for Uniworld.

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