River Cruise Co. to Boomers: Bring the Grandkids
Despite the perception that river cruises are for passengers in the baby boomer age bracket or older, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is finding success marketing a select number of sailings to families.
“Family and multi-generational travel is just exploding,” said Guy Young, president of Uniworld, adding “Everything we’re seeing and hearing is that family, and more importantly, multi-generational, travel is a very strong growth sector within the travel industry.”
Young told Travel Market Report that even before the river cruise line launched family sailings in 2008, it was starting to observe a lot of grandparents traveling with their children and grandchildren.
Hoping to take advantage of the growing family market, Uniworld became the first river cruise line to open up select sailings with child-friendly activities onboard. In both 2008 and 2009 four sailings were made available to families though they weren’t marketed as exclusive family departures. Both years, the sailings attracted increasing numbers of family bookings, so this year the line made the decision to make the four sailings “family exclusive” departures.
“For 2010, they’re almost completely sold out,” Young said. Two are fully sold out, and two are already at 85% load capacity. As a result, the line will double the sailings to eight in 2011.
Family Friendly Sailings
Uniworld’s family exclusive departures are offered on two of the line’s itineraries – two on the Northern France, Paris to Normandy itinerary and two on the Castles Along the Rhine, Basel to Amsterdam route, both of which are seven-night itineraries. All four departures are scheduled for either July or August to take full advantage of the North American summer vacation period.
In order to better accommodate children, the line makes slight changes to its onboard services, including offering a kids menu and kid-friendly activities.
“There’s not a kids club that you’d find on the big ships but we certainly are catering the cruise to better accommodate children,” Young said.
In addition to the gourmet meal service always offered, Uniworld will serve traditional kids’ menu food items like hot dogs, hamburgers and spaghetti.
Onboard activities educational and cultural may include pastry cooking classes, language lessons, painting classes and more. In addition, one cabin is blocked off as a Nintendo Playstation game room. The family exclusive departures are the only sailings on which Nintendo Playstations are available.
The Right Client
According to Young, Uniworld is targeting families with children aged eight to 18, though the line does allow kids as young as four onboard.
Young also said it’s important for agents to qualify clients before sending them on a river cruise. Family river cruises are about cultural and learning experiences and connecting with one’s family “in a meaningful way through travel.”
"It’s certainly not somebody who’s hoping to go onboard the ship and have a Mickey Mouse club or rock climbing wall,” he said.
“I think in this day and age, parents are interested in showing their children different destinations and learning about the history and culture of various cities in Europe,” he added.
For parents who might be concerned there won’t be enough children on the sailings, Young said agents should remind their clients that because these are family exclusive departures, they’ll be traveling with other families.
“There are quite a lot of children on each of those four departures,” he said.
As an added incentive for booking a river cruise for their family vacation, children travel at 50% off the cruise fare when accompanied by an adult.
This can be a major selling point for agents, as most clients expect river cruises to be too expensive to bring kids along.
Mike Davies, of RiverDiscounts.com, a river cruise expert told Travel Market Report he gets some requests from families but almost always the requests are for triple cabins, which don’t exist on most river cruise ships. Or, the client seeks a quote on a single cabin for a child, but when told the price for singles on river cruises during kids’ vacation times, they invariably do not book, he added.
For travel sellers interested in marketing these specially priced, family specific sailings, Young said the line is eager to work with them to help promote these sailings. Uniworld can help create flyers, provide agents with promotional materials, and if an agency is targeting a specific database, the line is open to the possibility of doing a co-op promotion.
Other Family River Cruise Options
Though Uniworld was the first river cruise company to offer dedicated family sailings, it is not longer alone. After trialing family sailings last year, Tauck has created a portfolio of Tauck Bridges family specific river cruise trips for this year.
The Tauck Bridges river cruise is an eight-day sailing on the Danube from Budapest on the MS Swiss Sapphire. The itinerary incorporates a number of components specifically crafted to provide family fun, including a scavenger hunt and whitewater rafting in Bratislava, a hands-on strudel-making class, a visit to Hellbrunn Castle near Salzburg, and a marzipan sculpting class. The two dedicated family departures of the Bridges river cruise are scheduled for July.
Echoing Young, Tauck CEO Dan Mahar said, “Parents today want to stimulate their children’s curiosity and sense of wonder about the world, and they want to spend quality time together as a family.”