Uniworld looks to airlines to guide vaccination policy

Uniworld boss Ellen Bettridge says the river cruise line will wait to see whether airlines request passengers are vaccinated or not before deciding on its own policy.

Speaking at Clia’s Virtual River Cruise Showcase on Wednesday (March 3), president and chief executive Bettridge revealed Uniworld planned to resume operations in May this year, initially on the Douro, the Rhine, Danube and Italy’s Po river.

Bookings for 2022 sailings were “150%, 160% up”, but interest in Christmas market itineraries this year had encouraged the line to add a second ship to meet demand, she added.

Asked what the line’s passenger vaccination policy would be when cruises started again, Bettridge pointed to airlines.

She said: “We’re going to rely on the airlines and if they require it then obviously, we will do. We’re just waiting to see. Our average guests are 55-plus so they will be vaccinated.

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“We’ve created a new section on our website where we’ll be advising our guests on what to expect. If we need to do something different we will pivot.

“With the vaccine rollout, and getting into the summer months, maybe we will get back to some type of normal.”

On booking trends, Bettridge (pictured) said the second half of 2021 was “really filling up” and 2022 was “absolutely on fire”. She said 89% of 2022 bookings were new, while 11% were carried over from 2021.

She added that there had been a surge of bookings of bookings from Britons for salings to the Exotics, especially Vietnam and India.

“There are some very interesting trends,” she said. “The second half of 2021 is really filling up. We’ve added another ship for our Christmas market. People want to cruise, and they want to go anywhere. 2022 is absolutely on fire. We’re 150%, 160% up over the previous year. People are definitely thinking further ahead. For 2021, they are very anxious to book.

“People are taking back-to-back cruises. I think they feel that they missed out this year and now they’ve got to make up for it. They’ve not spent their money on going to restaurants or going to the movies.”

Family and group bookings were also up, said Bettridge, who added that she saw a similar trend after 9/11.

For 2021, 48% of passengers have already sailed with the line, while around 54% of 2022 bookings are past passengers, Bettridge said.

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