Lack of differentiation of river cruise products ‘damages whole industry’, says Uniworld MD

River cruise lines must do more to differentiate their products when talking to the trade as agents are “unable” to place the right cruise with the right customer, according to Chris Townson, UK & Ireland managing director for Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.

Townson told Travel Weekly the river cruise sector is lagging behind ocean cruise as agents do not understand the differences between the lines.

He said there is a “constant conversation” within the sector about the challenge of “over marketing” – where a large number of lines claim they sit in the luxury space – meaning both agents and customers believe all the lines offer the same standard of product.

More: Uniworld to expand fleet with additional ship in 2026

He urged river cruise lines to be more open about their offering, saying: “There is a river cruise for everyone, be it two-star, three-star, four-star or five-star, but lines have to be honest about their product so they can get the right customers on board.”

“I feel sorry for agents because it’s impossible for them to know what is true if every operator tells them they are five-star,” he said.

“Ocean cruising is at a different stage. If you look back 15 years, ocean was a merge of products and there wasn’t much differentiation between them, but now when you talk to agents they know which are the luxury lines and which are mainstream.

“However, river cruise hasn’t moved forward as a sector and we all need to do more to raise awareness and give agents more support.”

Townson suggested a ratings system be employed, similar to that used by hotels, saying it would give “more clarity” on the different river cruise products available.

He warned the whole sector will suffer if lines are not more upfront about their offering and urged operators to be more transparent.

“Ultimately the wrong guest will end up on the wrong ship which is bad for the entire industry as the customer won’t then come back because they will feel they have been mis-sold,” he said.

“This is an ongoing challenge and debate and it’s why the partnership we have with our agents is so important because we need them to trust us to deliver them the right information so they can get more people on our ships in the long term.”

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