Europe leads the way as APT cruises set to resume

Escorted tours and cruise specialist APT has hailed the success of new holidays in Croatia and throughout the Balkans as it prepares to resume operations this spring.

The operator had hoped to restart in 2021 but the continuing Covid crisis meant it will now begin operations on March 21, with its Balkan Adventure river cruise set to be the first holiday to depart.

The cruise will be the first for the brand’s ‘Contemporary Class’ of river ships: Travelmarvel Vega, Travelmarvel Capella and Travelmarvel Polaris.

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APT Travelmarvel is offering seven-night taster cruises for £1,199 in March and April on Travelmarvel Vega for the Balkan Adventure and Legends of the Balkans itineraries.

APT’s Balkans offering was featured on the Channel 5 travel show, Cruising with Jane McDonald, with itinerary highlights such as visiting a Serbian family at home; guided tours of Budapest and Belgrade; the Bulgarian city of Rousse; and watching a traditional horse show with Magyar cowboys in Puszta.

Paul Melinis, UK and Europe managing director for APT, said another highlight for 2022 is the new range of small yacht cruises in Croatia, which had originally been scheduled for 2021.

APT Travelmarvel has added a second small ship, Princess Eleganza, to its Croatian range for 2022 in response to consumer demand, as much of the capacity on Lady Eleganza (pictured) had sold out.

He told a Travel Weekly webcast that 85% of the Croatia small ship inventory had been sold within the first six weeks, prompting the addition of Princess Eleganza for 2022.

The operator is also taking bookings for next year after putting its 2023 programme on sale early, back in August 2021.

Melinis said the 2023 programme launched so early because of customers who had to move their 2021 bookings and a degree of wariness about 2022.

Furthermore, he said the operator has been able to retain about 75% of its guests by booking them on 2022 or 2023 departures.

Another highlight is the addition of two ships – Mekong Serenity and RV Apsara – to the APT Mekong programme for 2022 and 2023.

“We just need Vietnam to open up. We’re hopeful that will probably open up more towards the back end of the year,” he told the webcast.

“But that’s also a great time to travel to Vietnam.”

Also on sale are Christmas market river cruises for 2022 and a new private touring programme, which launched in Portugal and Croatia.

Melinis said the operator is well known for its traditional escorted holidays to destinations such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand but over the past year it received more requests for private tours, in a car with a driver.

“You do what you want, when you want, through a planned itinerary – seeing the very best at a destination through an expert’s eyes,” he said.

“If you’re looking at Croatia, for someone who hasn’t been before, where do you start?

“All of this flexibility and choice is something that’s become more popular. It will also bring new clients to our brand.”

He said Europe is the destination on which to focus because it will open up to tourists quicker than other regions.

“We’ve had interest in Canada; we put that back on sale, which is good,” he said.

“We still get people enquiring and booking for Australia and New Zealand now.”

He is optimistic that travellers will book for 2022, especially after missing out over the past two years.

“It’s in our DNA to want something that we can’t have…and everybody wants to go on holiday,” he told the webcast.

“Some people have been waiting for a couple of years; it’s not a luxury…it’s now become a necessity.

“As time goes on, it’s going to become easier.”

He also tipped escorted tours and river cruises to be in demand as “trust and reliability” will be key concerns for travellers.

“There are probably 20 websites telling you 20 different things. But if you’ve got a cruise director [or] a tour director with you, then you can go and say help me out, ‘I am flying tonight, there’s a policy change’,” he said.

“That’s what we pay our guys for. They’re there to help the guests, to make them feel secure, to make them feel safe. And that makes a huge difference.”

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