This week, Cruise News UK goes Face-to-Face with Charles Clark, eWaterways Cruises’ Regional Director for UK and Ireland…
Q) Why is eWaterways unique in the UK market?
Established eight years ago, eWaterways are specialists in small ship cruises i.e. worldwide river cruises, luxury hotel barging, yachts, sailing ships, expedition cruises and coastal cruises. Within these sectors we are also catering for a wide range of niche products such as music cruises, wine cruises, nudist cruises, dive cruises, yoga cruises, gay cruises etc., so you can say that we are a one-stop-shop for innovative and memorable small ship cruise holidays.
As the largest aggregator of small ship cruise product from all around the world, we have access to unique, hard-to-source cruises that most companies have trouble sourcing themselves. Whilst eWaterways today works with over 400 different global suppliers and more than 1,200 ships we have also developed closer business relationships with our core business partners, as an example we are the UK representatives and function as call centre for Ponant Cruises.
And as we are speaking we are about to launch a new online agent portal providing agents with a secure online space which allows the eWaterways team to deliver both product training as well as a very personalised and unique service from start to finish.
Q) How have you adapted to make your product as trade-friendly as possible – and how has this strategy paid dividends?
We have seen a rise in the amount of enquiries taken from agents where they want the full package and not just a cruise only this is why we are currently working on a raft of new worldwide tailor-made cruise and stay packages. We have tested a few with our key partners and the feedback has been very good, not forgetting that the agent will now earn commission on the entire package and not just a cruise only.
We are of course also continuing to grow our product portfolio and are contracting more of the ‘off the beaten track’ cruises to give our agents a wider choice.
Q) What booking trends have you noticed in 2016 and what factors are driving these?
World events have undoubtedly affected this year’s European and Middle Eastern cruise bookings, in particular the US market have opted for staycations, however we are seeing these bookings bouncing back with a lot of River Cruise companies now offering significant discounts, upgrades and other added value to attract customers back.
During 2016 we have seen an increase in bookings to far-flung destinations, this tells me that our customers are becoming more adventures and want something different. We have seen bookings increase to India, Vietnam, Cuba, Costa Rica and China. This is certainly something we will be looking to increase again in 2017.
Q) The UK cruise market grew again last year – how did eWaterways perform in comparison?
We have seen significant double digit growth across all our sectors, with a slight dip in June/July when Brexit was announced, however the market have since bounced back.
Q) What’s your trade strategy for 2017?
The challenge is educating consultants, so our plan is to run more fam trips and ship visits and we will be arranging and attending more agent conferences in 2017. We will be looking to strengthen relationships with the agents we are currently working with, as well as approaching new businesses that might not know about a great deal about us.
We want to make sure that all agents can access our product with ease, so we are currently building a new website where agents can log in and obtain the latest prices and download digital brochures for their clients. And we are expanding our API feed which gives technically savvy agents instant access to a wealth of product that can be booked via their own web platform. We offer agents generous commission, agent only offers and solid customer support. The trade is a key part of the growth plan in 2017.
Q) What growth potential do you see for your portfolio of products and what type of cruise products or packages and/or river cruises do you tip for greatness over the next few years?
My prediction is that mega-yachts are about to have a big moment. We have recently seen a number of cruise lines creating a new category of cruise, small ship holidays that blend elements of expedition ships and luxury vessels. The size of these vessels will make them globetrotters, literally able to travel from pole to pole and all points in between, their size will allow them to go to ports where there won’t be a 3,000-passenger vessel in sight.
Our partner Ponant are presently building four new 92-stateroom vessels, confirming the cruise line’s position as the world leader in luxury expeditions. The first two will arrive in time for the summer 2018 season and the other two for summer 2019. These developments signal an industry-wide shift to attract younger, more active, and wealthier travellers
River cruise is still incredibly popular and will continue to be so over the next few years. With themed river cruises growing in popularity I see this as another area for growth within the sector. We haven’t scratched the surface for river cruising yet, there is still massive opportunity for growth industry wide.
Q) What’s new for 2017?
Besides more boutique style cruises in Europe, We’re looking at India and Cuba for 2017 as we know that our repeat guests want to visit these new destinations. We will be launching our new website, and you will see us partnering with more companies in the UK market. As the cruise industry continues to grow and evolve at a record pace so will eWaterways.