Tui is to launch into the river cruise market with three of its own ships next summer.
The travel giant has acquired three 155-passenger vessels that will sail seven-night itineraries along the Danube, Rhine, Main and Moselle. The sailings will be adult-only.
The new division will be called Tui River Cruises, and the line’s debut programme will offer 19 itineraries which will go on sale on April 25. The lead-in price for a seven-night sailing is £1,099, in which tips and service charges will be included, as they are with ocean cruising sister brand Marella Cruises.
Marella Cruises managing director Chris Hackney adds the new river cruising business to his remit and becomes UK & Ireland cruise managing director.
He said the new river programme would be sold only in the UK market and hinted the group would add more ships to its three-vessel fleet.
“This is just the start for us,” he said. “In terms of how big we get it depends on [consumer] appetite at this stage – we have just launched. But there is an opportunity for us on the main European rivers going forward. At the moment we are concentrating on sailings from Amsterdam and we will probably go as far down as Serbia.”
He said the scope was considerable and suggested the line could offer sailings on the Douro in Portugal, which was becoming a “very popular” river cruising destination.
Hackney said Tui had carried out extensive research and believed customers would be both existing Tui and Marella Cruises customers, wishing to try a river cruise, as well as people who are interested in river cruising but whom had not previously travelled with Tui.
“We looked at the typical customer base that were going on an ocean cruise, but there were also customers who had not sailed on Tui’s ocean cruises that wanted to go on a river cruise and explore,” he said.
Hackney said he thought people would be attracted by Tui’s reputation for quality and flexibility.
“Tui River Cruises will have that great service that we offer with [Tui’s ocean line] Marella Cruises and it will sit under the Tui umbrella,” he said.
Every guest will receive a £120 credit for excursions including bike tours, cookery classes and sightseeing tours, something Hackney believed would also be a strong draw and USP.
Tui has bought the ships from operators Werner-Tours and Reisebüro Mittelthurgau Fluss, which will continue to operate the vessels until October, after which Tui River Cruises will take control.
The ships will then be refitted and renamed Tui Maya, Tui Isla and Tui Skyla – names chosen because of their close association with water and rivers, Hackney said.
He explained: “The ships are operating under different names for operators in Europe, but this winter they will go into the Tui-fication [process].”
The changes will include adding a second bar that will serve coffee by day and cocktails by night.
Other facilities will include three restaurants: a main dining room, a lighter dining area and an al fresco barbeque restaurant.
Each vessel will have an outdoor area where passengers can relax during the day which will transform into an evening venue which will offer light entertainment.
The ships will also have a small spa area and whirlpool.
Between 75 and 80 cabins will be available – ranging from standard, superior and suite class – on all three vessels. The ships will also have single cabins. Suites will have a private balcony.
Tui expects river cruises to be bought directly from its website, via its own shop network, and from third party agent partners. He said conversations with third party agent partners were happening currently, and said Tui had also created a new training programme to help agents – both in-house and third-party – to learn about the new product.