Uniworld is "hopeful" of restarting operations in May, according to president Ellen Bettridge, who predicted river cruising would “get back to normal” by late summer.
Speaking at Clia’s Virtual River Cruise Showcase on Wednesday (3 March), Bettridge said she anticipated her line being able to sail on the Rhine, Danube and Douro by May and launch its new Mekong ship, Mekong Jewel, in September.
Bettridge also said she expected guests would still have to wear masks onboard and follow the individual protocols in each country their ship visited.
“We don’t really know for sure what’s going to be required but what we do know is guest will still have a fantastic experience.”
Asked if Uniworld customers would need to be vaccinated to sail – following a similar policy to that of Crystal and Avalon Waterways – Bettridge said: “If [airlines] are requiring it, then obviously we would be. At the moment we’re waiting to see. I would anticipate that our average guest, who’s around 55-plus, would have already been vaccinated.”
Questioned as to how shore excursions would operate once sailings restarted, she said that was “one of the big unknowns”.
“I think different destinations will have different rules and we’ll have to create different excursions around that. So that will be one of our logistical challenges but the team are prepared for that.”
Bettridge added: “I think once we get into late summer – August, September – I really do believe that we will get back to normal.”
Discussing consumer demand for river cruising, Bettridge revealed that for 2022, 11% of Uniworld bookings had been carried over from 2020, while 89% had come from “new, organic business” and 52% of guests booked for 2021 were new to the brand.
“We haven’t stopped marketing or educating our travel advisors,” she said.
“People see [river cruising] as the opportunity to be close to land, on a smaller vessel and you have the space, comfort and luxury – I think they feel more comfortable being close to land.”