There is a good chance most agents haven’t heard of AMA Waterways or Scenic Tours, but both are working hard to get on side with the trade as between them they prepare to launch four river cruise vessels.
AMA Waterways is a US-based company launched in 2002 by a former president of Viking River Cruises. Initially called Amadeus Waterways, it changed its name in 2006.
The latter is Australia’s leading escorted tour company and is no newcomer to the UK.
Scenic Tours has been selling holidays here for the past decade over-branded by other companies, but has just started selling tours under its own name.
As well as land-based tours, Scenic sold space on Viking River Cruises vessels. However, 18 months ago it decided to build its own tonnage. It launched two river cruise ships last year and two more will enter service in April and May this year.
Scenic Tours general manager Chris Townson said sales are going through the trade and direct. He said: “We’re just building our trade distribution. I’ve got a sales team on the road talking to agents and the reaction has been good. They see us as a competitively priced five-star alternative to other river cruise operators.”
Prices for a 15-night Jewels of Europe cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest lead in at £1,995 per person including flights and gratuities.
Shore excursions are also included, with a choice of tours at some ports, and complimentary wine is served with lunch and dinner. This will soon be extended to offer beer and soft drinks as free alternatives.
Scenic Tours’ ships have capacity for 168 passengers. Some 82% of their cabins have balconies that are big enough to sit on – most river cruise vessels have Juliet balconies, which are just floor-to-ceiling doors to let fresh air in – and all have junior and royal suites with butler service.
There is a free reservation-only speciality restaurant for passengers who want a break from the main dining room and, in keeping with the company’s Australian roots, barbecues on deck. There are also plans for an ice cream bar.
Townson said: “The junior and royal suites always sell first, then the balconies. Feedback from passengers has been good. They are driving our growth.”
He said passengers are English-speaking, from Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada and the UK. The average age is 60-plus and Australians typically make up 65% of the mix.
For 2009, Scenic is expanding beyond the Jewels of Europe cruise, offering a 22-night voyage from Amsterdam to Bucharest. It is also allowing those on a time budget to break the 15-night itinerary at Nuremburg. All cruises will be in a new brochure launching in May, which will also include a Viking River Cruises Moscow-St Petersburg itinerary.
AMA Waterways is also launching two new river cruise vessels this year. The 148-passenger Amalyra debuts on the Danube in March, followed in May by Amadolce. In April, Viking River Cruises launches Viking Legend, which will be sailing 15-night cruises from Amsterdam to Budapest.
It’s a lot of extra capacity very quickly, but Viking chairman Graham Clubb is not concerned. He said: “The market is nowhere near saturation. It’s not like ocean-going ships, where one vessel holds more than 3,000 people. In total, our 21 river ships hold 3,000 people.”
The Passenger Shipping Association said 150,000 Britons took a river cruise last year, while 1.5 million took an ocean cruise.
Clubb said Scenic’s entry into the market would help to raise the profile of river cruising generally. He said: “It’s good to have a new operator, especially at the top end as it enhances the product.”
Peter Deilmann River Cruises UK managing director Stuart Perl said there is definitely room for another river cruise operator as there would not be enough capacity if the market suddenly put on a growth spurt.
He said: “I have no doubt demand for river cruising will grow. The trade is increasingly aware of river cruising and doing a good job getting the message to consumers.”
Perl said he didn’t see Scenic as a competitor as Peter Deilmann offers traditional cruising while Scenic is more contemporary. He added: “There isn’t a lot of capacity
at the top of the market so it’s good to have another five-star operator.”
- Read Jane Archer’s cruise blog at travelweekly.co.uk/cruiselines
- More cruise news and features at travelweekly.co.uk/cruise
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