The proximity of Uniworld's Asian destinations to Australia combined with the program's focus on luxury and personal touches are expected to deliver strong growth for the fledgling program this year.
The river cruise operator launched Mekong River cruises in 2012 and Yangtze River itineraries in 2013 with a new itinerary added for 2014.
General manager John Molinaro revealed that the program is so far performing well despite some “good competition” in the local market. The addition of the 12-day Treasures of China and the Yangtze itinerary to its latest program is expected to drive its popularity further.
“We’re expecting a very, very big year for our China program,” he said.
While the Asian river cruises are operated by third parties, Molinaro stressed that Uniworld sends its own chefs and staff to train the onboard crew and ensure high quality service. It also has a dedicated cruise manager on each sailing to take care of customers’ requirements.
Those personal touches, combined with the luxury of the product and a strong focus on local dining experiences, are key selling points.
The destinations’ relative proximity to Australia is also a major driver with the itineraries proving particularly popular with repeat customers, according to Molinaro.
"These are people that have had a tremendous experience on other voyages with us and they come back and want to try Asia with a brand they know and trust,” he said.
Over in Europe, the operator has recently confirmed it will refurbish two of its vessels ahead of the 2014 season. River Royale and River Empress will be updated with new dining and public areas.
The season will also see a new “supership,”, S.S. Catherine, join its fleet along with a new all-inclusive pricing structure. It will also add a new destination, Bordeaux, to its European program next year.
Further expansion remains on the agenda, but Molinaro insisted it will not be a rushed job. He confirmed that the firm is on the look-out for new opportunities, but they must be a “strategic fit”.
“We have to do it right,” he said. “If that means waiting a year or two then we’ll wait, but if we find an opportunity that meets our needs then we’ll do it next year.”
Meanwhile, he confirmed that the average age of its customers continues to come down as a growing number of “multigenerational families” join its itineraries.
“It was 60 plus but now it’s 50 plus because people are taking their families,” he said.
“We are taking on a whole new wave of people. You can go on any one of our cruises and you will find every age group because people are realising that river cruising is such a tremendous option.”