Australian Riverboats In Europe – Other Cruise News: MSC Armonia Returns To Sea – Saga To Sell Through Travel Agents

by Kevin Griffin

APT, Scenic and Evergreen may be new names to many, but together they are deep in the Australian psyche and are investing €360 million in European river cruise vessels. We have a quick look today at their latest moves. Meanwhile MSC Cruises’ MSC Armonia will finish her lengthening at Palermo in a few weeks and will carry 25% more passengers. MSC has announced some special events for her November positioning voyage from Genoa to Las Palmas. And Saga in the UK is preparing to welcome bookings from travel agents instead of relying solely on direct sell as in the past.

THIS WEEK’S STORY

Australian Riverboats In Europe
Three Australian travel companies are investing €360 million into building luxurious new vessels to cater for their booming river cruise business in Europe.

AmaWaterways’ Amadagio

Australian Pacific Touring (APT) was founded in Melbourne in 1927 by current owner Geoff McGeary’s father Bill. At the moment, it is busy investing more than €200 million in new ships including the 164-berth AmaReina and AmaSonata, both introduced this summer.

APT is doing this as a major partner in Los Angeles-based AmaWaterways, operating a number of vessels that are dedicated to the Australasian market. While APT operates its own fleet, which AmaWaterways does not sell into, the product is AmaWaterways, whether you’re an Australasian or a North American.
Founded in 2002 by river cruise executives Rudi Schreiner, Kristin Karst and Jimmy Murphy, AmaWaterways operates across three continents. It offers thirty unique itineraries to a variety of destinations throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa, although the majority of its cruises take place on the rivers of Western Europe.

The APT Group began investing in building luxury river boats in Europe in 2005, in conjunction with Jimmy Murphy of Brendan Tours and river cruising expert Rudi Schreiner. This ultimately led to a co-ownership in AmaWaterways, whose first ship, the 150-berth AmaDagio, was introduced in 2006.

AmaWaterways’ AmaLotus (Cruises on the Mekong River)

As a brand, APT actually offers more inclusivity at higher fares and a wider range of long trips, while AMA takes a less inclusive and more price-sensitive approach.

And while APT markets exclusively in Australia and AmaWaterways concentrates on North America, both companies market their product separately in the UK. As with so many of these burgeoning river cruise lines, sales are aimed at the English-speaking market.

In the past five years APT has added seven new ships to its European fleet, taking its fleet there to thirteen vessels. The companies, whose major partner is Los Angeles-based Brendan Tours, will have a fleet of sixteen river boats by the end of 2016.

In 2011, APT also invested in UK-based small ship operators Noble Caledonia, which over three years has built up a fleet of three of the eight former 114-berth Renaissance mega-yachts and expedition ships, starting with the Island Sky then adding the Caledonian Star in 2012 and the Sea Explorer, which will be renamed, this year.

Scenic Ruby

Scenic Tours, meanwhile, is a Sydney-based company founded in 1986 by Glen Moroney. With sister company Evergreen Tours, its is investing more than €160 million euro in eight new ships including Evergreen’s Emerald Sky, which features a 260 sq ft swimming pool that can be covered and converted to a cinema at night.

Scenic already operates an upmarket five-star ten-ship river cruise fleet, with two more vessels to be introduced in 2015.
Like APT, Scenic Tours began as a coach tour operator, offering excursions to Queensland, and has in more recent years expanded to Europe.

Scenic had tested river cruises with clients by chartering some ships and then decided to build its own river cruisers. This new chapter for Scenic Tours began in 2008 with the launch of Scenic Cruises and their exclusive Scenic “Space-Ships” in Europe. Scenic ships are designed to offer more space in suites and public areas.  On average suites are 22% larger than ships of the same size and public rooms are 24% larger.

Scenic adopts as “all-inclusive” approach and guests can enjoy all meals with up to six dining venues to choose from on board. Other river cruise lines have far fewer dining choices. All drinks anytime, including wine, beer and spirits, butler service for all cabins, prepaid tips and gratuities on board and ashore are also included. In addition, guests enjoy all shore excursions at no extra cost.

Emerald Sky moored at Cologne (Photo cruisepassenger.com.au)

Evergreen’s participation is called Emerald Waterways, and its 182-berth Emerald Sky, christened earlier this year by Twiggy, is the first of four “Star Ships” to enter service for new four-star brand.
Although Emerald Waterways intends to offer real value for money prices, its fleet has been designed to offer more space per guest than most other operators and many innovations unique to river cruising – such as The Terrace forward for alfresco dining.

Australia is now the fifth-largest source of cruise passengers in the world, with 760,000 cruises booked in 2013, while the latest river cruising figures show nearly 40,000 cruises booked by Australians in 2012.

OTHER CRUISE NEWS

MSC Armonia Returns To Sea

MSC Cruises is set to re-introduce its lengthened MSC Armonia with a 10-day positioning cruise packed with celebrations. The ship is currently undergoing a ‘Renaissance’ treatment at Fincantieri’s Palermo shipyard (Image gallery).
She is the first of four Lirica class vessels to be lengthened to carry 400 more passengere each over the next 14 months.

The lengthened ship’s inaugural cruise will depart Genoa on November 19 for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. During this 10-day cruise, she will call at Marseilles, Cartagena, Gibraltar, Cadiz, Funchal, La Palma and Tenerife.

MSC Lirica

This sailing will include a program of in port entertainment that features dancers and musicians, favours for guests and fireworks displays in Marseilles and Tenerife. To continue the celebratory theme, MSC Armonia will also host a special gala dinner, along with theatrical performances.

Following her inaugural cruise, the “new” MSC Armonia will operate alternating seven-night Canary Island cruises going to the Canary Islands and Madeira one week and the Canary Islands and Morocco the next week, each with the option of extended overnight stays. Fares from the UK start at just £549 per person, including upgrade to outside cabin, return flights to Gran Canaria and all transfers.

As rebuilt, MSC Armonia will offer more balcony cabins, more spacious common areas, flexible new dining options and dedicated clubs for younger guests of all ages. It will also feature a spray park with interactive jets, slides and ingenious water features for the kiddies.

According to MSC statistics, the gross tonnage (useable onboard volume) of each ship will rise by about 10%, from 59,000 to 65,000 tons while the lower bed count will go up by 25%, from 1,560 to 1,946.

Saga To Sell Through Travel Agents

Starting in October, UK over-50s specialist Saga Travel is to sell direct through travel agents, something it has not done since the 1970s. Saga operates its own 706-berth Saga Sapphire and 456-berth Saga Pearl II as well as selling cruises on Azamara Club Cruises, Fred. Olsen Cruise Line, MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line.

Saga Sapphire (Photo Jim the Geordie at Jim’s Tyneside photo blog)

The direct-sell tour operator, which has been selling cruises to the trade through subsidiary travel company Titan Travel for two or three years now, is recruiting an agency sales team to work from the Saga head office in Folkestone.

Chief executive Andrew Strong said: “This venture will put the option of a Saga holiday or cruise in the nation’s high streets as well as on door mats. Feedback so far from agents is very positive. Our current customers like dealing with us direct but there are those that prefer to pop into their local travel agent.”

The existing features offered by Saga holidays, such as included travel insurance, door-to-door travel on long-haul and cruise holidays and an experienced representative in resorts, will be included for both direct customer and trade bookings.

Saga Pearl II (Dec. 2013 photo Ivan T. at Wikipedia)

This latest move will be seen as a serious threat by P&O Cruises and Cunard Line, which jointly pay the lowest rate of travel agents commission in the UK, as Saga is promising a “very generous” commission rate to agents. Agents should be able to make up to 50% more commission by booking more customers with Saga.

If another UK tour operator who began to sell through travel agents three years ago can be used as a guide, Burton-on-Trent-based Riviera Travel now reports that 20% of its 15,000 river cruisers and 8% of its 100,000 tour customers now come to it through agents.
Saga carried 26,000 cruise passengers on its own ships last year and more than 150,000 tour passengers.

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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