Skift Take

Uniworld is making an interesting play to expand the market for river cruising. We'll be curious to see how the new brand tries to create an experience that appeals to millennials without pandering.

River cruise lines have been talking for years about their wish to get younger travelers on board — though by “younger” they often mean passengers in middle age or early retirement.

Now Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is making a play for the sought-after millennial crowd with a new brand. The Los Angeles-based river cruise company, part of The Travel Corporation, made the announcement this week.

U by Uniworld is meant to appeal to “youthful adventure seekers” between the ages of 18 and 40, the company says. Citing the “Instagram and Snapchat-worthy rivers of Europe,” the company said in its announcement that the brand will deliver immersive itineraries with longer stays that focus on local experiences, restaurants, bars, and nightlife.

Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO of Uniworld, said in a statement that the brand will  offer “a new way for exploratory, younger travelers to experience the pulse of Europe” while staying true to some core elements of Uniworld.

“We are targeting an active traveler between the ages of 18 and 40, with everything from the décor, dining and cocktail service to the land activities thoughtfully curated to appeal to, and meet the needs of, this audience,” she said.

Cruises will go on sale in March but the first voyages will not take place until early 2018.

The River Baroness and River Ambassador, two 116-passenger ships already in the Uniworld fleet, will be renovated and updated for the new brand. An announcement said they will include a new culinary program, mixologists, and international DJs.

Brett Tollman, CEO of The Travel Corporation, said in a statement that the new brand will use learnings from other youth-focused brands in the portfolio including Contiki and Busabout.

“U by Uniworld is poised to define the river exploring experience for an entirely new demographic,” Tollman said.

As river cruising has exploded in recent years, some operators have sought young passengers. G Adventures chartered a handful of ships for voyages in Europe, Asia, and South America geared to younger clientele. AmaWaterways partnered with Adventures by Disney to attract families for a series of cruises.

But for the most part, river cruise companies are still fighting to get older passengers on board. Steve Born, the vice president of marketing for the Globus family of brands — which includes Avalon Waterways — told Skift earlier this year that baby boomers still needed to be sold on the concept of river cruising in a major way.

“The category hasn’t done a good job of even converting boomers to that market,” he said. “Where boomers right now are the driving force in international travel, they’re underrepresented in river cruise right now.”


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Tags: river cruising, the travel corporation, uniworld

Photo credit: River Baroness, one of Uniworld's ships, is shown in Normandy. Uniworld is launching a brand for younger river cruisers that will use the vessel after a renovation. Tom Barnes / Flickr

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