River Cruise Operators Report Strong Growth in Asia
By Theresa Norton Masek
August 09, 2012 10:26 PM
River cruise companies are experiencing double- and triple-digit increases in sales in Asia, most notably in the fairly new destination of the Mekong River, which takes travelers to Vietnam and Cambodia. Also growing is interest in China packages that include a Yangtze River cruise and land tour.
Avalon Managing Director Patrick Clark said sales were strong in the Mekong from the start. The company entered the market this year with the 16-stateroom Avalon Angkor, and saw load factors in the 90s from the start, Clark said. “And for the first quarter of 2013, they’re already in the high 60s and low 70s. There is a lot of interest in Asia, and Vietnam and Cambodia in particular,” he said.
Why so much interest? Veterans of the booming European river cruise market are looking for new destinations to experience that form of travel. “Asia is attracting experienced cruisers looking for another destination that is still exotic, and wanting to be there before it becomes a little more popular,” Clark said.
It’s also an easy way to explore a completely new destination with a minimum of hassle. “Clearly, river cruising is a more comfortable way to see a destination,” Clark said. “You’re not foregoing creature comforts and not forgoing the destination experience. … There’s a kind of security on the ship, everything is taken care of. You get the destination experience and a comfortable bed, good meals and nice wines.”
Agreeing with the growth in Asia is Wesley Bosnic, senior vice president-revenue management and strategic development for Uniworld Boutique River Cruises. “Asia is definitely an opportunity for growth. We’re already experiencing nice growth there,” he said.
Uniworld launched the 30-stateroom River Saigon on the Mekong in January and is adding another new ship there in 2013. “When we introduced our Vietnam and Cambodia seven-night cruise on the Mekong, it was just an immediate success and sold out pretty quickly,” Bosnic said. “We were very encouraged and took on a second newbuild, River Orchid, which is the same capacity but will have two suites and a little larger sundeck.” He adds that the ship’s size is especially suited for groups, which often take the entire vessel.
Bosnic agrees that experienced river cruisers are looking for more exotic destinations to visit. “They’ve done Europe several times and are looking for a different experience, different culture and history, and Southeast Asia definitely provides that. It’s a very welcoming destination, and there are so many things to see,” Bosnic said. “The Mekong itself is serene, beautiful and tranquil. You visit temples, go into floating villages, things you definitely will not see in Europe.”
In China, both Clark and Bosnic agree travel had slowed over the past few years but is gaining steam for 2013. “This year, 2012, we’ll be about flat in China over 2011, but 2013 is just taking off,” Clark said. “Certain things come in cycles.” He suspects that the hype over the Beijing Olympics has been simmering below the surface and is bubbling over now. “There was a period when sales to China were slow, but people are going back to China now,” Bosnic said.
For 2013, both Avalon and Uniworld are partnering with Century Cruises to offer the new Century Legend and Century Paragon, which will have an executive deck, indoor pool/spa area and signature suites.
“We added another itinerary in China, which has helped, as has the focus on the small group aspect,” said Avalon’s Clark. “We’re promoting the fact that there’s never going to be more than 20 passengers in a group, so that’s kind of appealing.”
Avalon’s 2013 Southeast Asia cruise is the 14-day “Fascinating Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong River.” Uniworld offers the 15-day “Timeless Wonders of Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong River” cruise-tour.
Among other river cruise companies, for 2013 AmaWaterways offers a 16-night land and cruise package between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, using two ships, La Marguerite and AmaLotus. Viking River Cruises offers a similar 15-day cruise-tour on the Indochina.
For more information on river cruises, visit Sell River Cruises.