CruiseHenry Yu, Managing Director, Asia, The Travel Corporation (TTC) - The Velvet Collection speaks to Travel Weekly Asia on Uniworld's brand positioning and market engagement.

Luxury cruising begins with caring and community connections

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S.S. La Venezia takes guests on an onboard experience inspired by Northern Italy.
S.S. La Venezia takes guests on an onboard experience inspired by Northern Italy. Photo Credit: Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

River cruising is on the come-back and river cruise brands are seeing increased bookings for longer itineraries and with more add-ons.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises is one of the brands seeing strong demand that is steadily increasing. It recently launched its Super Ship S.S. Sphinx, which sailed its first cruise in Egypt, on 23 September last year. 

In Singapore, Uniworld is reporting significant interest ever since the VTLs were announced by the government. Enquiries have spiked by about 200%, according to Henry Yu, Managing Director, Asia, The Travel Corporation (TTC) - The Velvet Collection.

The Velvet Collection represents the grouping of the following brands under a single entity: Red Carnation Hotel Collection, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold and African Travel. The goal of forming The Velvet Collection is to have a single sales team of cross-trained TTC professionals to better serve travel advisors and partners.

Henry Yu, Managing Director, Asia, The Travel Corporation (TTC) - The Velvet Collection wants to create special moments that bring cultures and communities together.
Henry Yu, Managing Director, Asia, The Travel Corporation (TTC) - The Velvet Collection wants to create special moments that bring cultures and communities together. Photo Credit: Esther Lew

“Response has been very positive. Customers who call in are not only from Singapore. Many of them ask if they could fly to Singapore and stay for one or two weeks, and then take a VTL flight to Europe to go on our cruises. They see Singapore as a transit hub and are checking on all the different travel possibilities,” adds Yu.

Travel Weekly Asia gets in-depth perspectives from Yu on what makes the Uniworld brand different and how they intend to continue to engage luxury travellers.

How does Uniworld distinguish itself as a premium luxury river cruise brand?

To answer that, let me share with you on the kinds of experiences that Uniworld likes to create for our guests. One of our itineraries takes us to Vidin, a little town in Western part of Bulgaria, which is the poorer part of the country. The majority of the people there don't speak English, but you can tell that they have kind souls and are very friendly. 

We had a guide take us to the local kindergarten school as part of the social interaction with the locals. We go there because we want the children to be able to socialise and communicate with the outside world in a way they know best – through little performances like song and dance. It’s interactive for our guests, and they enjoy it too.

To us, luxury travel is not always about taking passengers to beautiful castles and wonderful restaurants all the time. It’s about what makes the experience unique, memorable and tells a meaningful story. 

Another thing that Uniworld prides itself on is to create experiences that are not only out of the norm, but also out of the way. By that I mean we do not always go to easily accessible places with high commercial value for us. 

For instance, we took guests to this lovely little cul-de-sac town along the south of France that cannot be reached by train, by coach or by car – only by river boat. It’s a very quiet town and you will not see a lot of villagers there. We have a couple of local hosts who take us to local homes and other venues to really experience the everyday life of the villagers. Again, this is nothing fancy, but it is priceless in terms of uniqueness. 

As personalisation is a key criteria for engaging the luxury market, how is Uniworld deepening this relationship?

We organise networking events with talks on various themes for our exclusive clientele, usually about 20-30 guests to keep it intimate and to ensure we are able to engage them with a 1:3 service ratio, which is the same standard we adhere to onboard our river boats. These events are free and are by invitation only. 

This method of engagement works best with our target demographic of mainly mature guests. It has worked for us in creating powerful word of mouth marketing, and our guests enjoy the personal interaction and ‘teasers’ that we present at the events.

For instance, the engagement begins with a story, a taste, a sensation, and what better way than to present culinary teasers of what to expect on a cruise. For a southern France itinerary, we organised our event at a southern France restaurant, and came up with a customised dish along with wine pairing for our guests to enjoy. The theme and setting depends on the itinerary we want to highlight. 

A classic suite experience with fine Fortuny fabrics and decor that pays tribute to Venetian aesthetics.
A classic suite experience with fine Fortuny fabrics and decor that pays tribute to Venetian aesthetics. Photo Credit: Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

How has Uniworld’s target markets evolved over the years?

When I joined in 2014, we started with a focus on the Singapore market. From 2016, we cover all Asia markets: Malaysia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea.

The majority of our customers are from 55 years old to 75 years old, which make up about 80% of our clientele. We also have young travellers who are below 45 years old comprising about 5%-10% of our clientele. A unique market we are catering for are those in the 75 to 95 year old category, which make up about 10% of our clientele.

How is Uniworld preparing for the revenge travel that is expected in the short- and long-term?

Firstly, we will still focus on building the B2B business with our travel trade partners. 

Secondly, we want to explore different possibilities to reach out to customers we’ve never reached before. This is where creative partnerships will come in. To start, we are working with Savoir Beds, a premium luxury brand from UK to cross-sell our products as both brands reach out to very similar target customers. They have just opened a store at Raffles Hotel Singapore last year, and we are happy to partner them as their beds are featured on our river boats.

Thirdly, we want to focus on engaging our clientele as they journey through life, whether they travel on a river cruise as couples, with their families or even gift it to their loved ones. In order to do that, we have a presence on one of the major online shopping platforms in which we offer Uniworld river cruise vouchers. The vouchers allow recipients to choose what cruise they want to go on and when to go. They are also transferable, so it can be easily utilised to suit family arrangements.

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