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