After having personally taken a cruise from Saint Petersburg to Moscow with Orthodox Cruise Company, Cruise News has been convinced; Russia is one of the main futures of the entire industry. It’s not only our opinion either – the facts released by the Passenger Shipping Association bear it out. Last year the Russian river cruising sector grew by 11%. And it’s making no sign of slowing down. As more and more agents are beginning to take real notice of Russia and its waterways, the time to enter the market is now. We caught up with the director of Orthodox’s cruise department to fi nd out more about the company, the sector and the challenges that they currently face.
1. Can you give me a brief history of Orthodox Cruises?
Orthodox Cruise Company was established in 1988 in Rostov-on-Don. Initially it operated cruises between Moscow and St. Petersburg – a route which remains our most popular – and gradually expanded to include tours such as the Golden Ring cities, the Volga River and Ukrainian waterways. In 2001 the company opened an office in Paris. Now we have offices in Kiev, Ukraine; Vienna, Austria; and Tokyo, Japan. Along the way we’ve entered into a partnership with New Way Group in New York and opened two sales offices there too.
2. What is your role within the business and what does that entail on a day-to-day basis?
I am the director of the cruise department – a job which involves many aspects of the entire process! On a typical day I can be working on tour arrangements, accounting, cruise scheduling, customer satisfaction and general client services. I am also always on hand to meet clients and visiting dignitaries and diplomats – I mainly deal with the UK, South Africa, US and Australian markets.
3. How healthy is the Russian river cruise sector?
Extremely healthy. We have been fortunate in that most of our cruises have been completely sold out every year. Our team attends trade shows all over the world – from London to Florida and everywhere we go we hear that people are extremely interested in Russia as a destination. Many people have roots here and are interested in seeing their ancestral homes while it’s also on an increasing number of bucket lists.
4. How popular are your cruises amongst British passengers?
All our new routes and destinations are extremely popular among British travel agencies. They have found a reliable Russian cruise company which is able to meet all the expectations of the demanding British client and is ready to develop new destinations showing Russia from inside, involving real experts and the best ships and hotels available.
5. How many ships do you have and could you detail how successful your season has been?
We have 10 ships currently sailing the waterways of Russia. We own the ships which are all German and Austrian made. They have also all been completely renovated in the last five years. As I said, most of our cruises are sold out every year, and this has caused us to expand our offering. Every season we provide a service for more than 40,000 tourists. And we would like to stress that many tourists who travel with us come back the following year with their friends and family to explore our other destinations. Having experienced cruises with us they are ready to continue learning and discovering new places, safe in the knowledge that our company is able to provide an excellent level of service. We are also the only cruise company introducing programmes like the Chaikovskiy Cruise, dedicated to the famous Russian composer; Dostoevskiy Cruise; Musical Cruise, including onboard performances of the Russian National Orchestra; and Culinary Cruise.
6. What are the biggest challenges you currently face?
Competition is always fi erce in this market and since we’re a relatively small company, we have to emphasise the smaller, more intimate nature of our cruises. These are river ships, not ocean liners, so the number of passengers is small and the level of attention for each passenger is far greater. All of our cruises carry expert lecturers and guides, who actually live in the places we visit. They have an in-depth knowledge of those places, which they share with the passengers.
7. Do you think Russia could do more to market itself as a region? If so, what?
Russia could probably stress the above; the roots that so many Americans and Europeans have there are a marketing tool in themselves. The culture and culinary opportunities that await travellers are also key. On river cruises in particular, they have the chance to go beyond the usual things that tourists see, and really experience the country in small villages and natural surroundings. It is not only an educational experience but also a possibility to open a new culture with its unique customs and traditions. And foreigners, especially our British clients, are really interested in widening their travel horizons.
8. You’re going to be changing your offering to involve land-based hotels, could you explain your thinking behind that?
Not changing, adding. Many people have inquired about extending their stay before or after the cruise, for instance in Moscow or St.Petersburg. We realised that there is an untapped market there, and we want to become a full-service travel company and better serve them. Russia is a huge country and there are some places which are impossible to reach by river ship. That is why we are glad to introduce new programmes, which involve hotels and allow our clients to explore more of Russia.
9. Where would you like to take Orthodox in the future?
In the past we offered extensions of our cruises, such as to Istanbul at the end of the Kiev-Odessa cruise. But because of logistics, we had to temporarily discontinue it but we might resume that in the future. We have also offered extensions to Solovki Islands, Lake Baikal, Tran-Siberian Express and we will continue to do that by request. We have all necessary instruments, and more importantly more than 20 years experience, to meet the demands of our clients – even those with the level of expectations like the British! Wherever passengers would like to go, and they will be happy, we want to take them. We annually we introduce new programmes to the market. For the 2013 season we are offering the Marshall Koshevoy with pre- and post-cruise hotel stays.