Late last week, Imperial River Cruises and Orthodox Cruise Company, experienced operators of Russian river cruises, announced they had formed World Quest Cruises (www.worldquestcruises.com), a new river and expedition cruise retail brand.
Global Voyages Group (http://www.globalvoyagesgroup.com) of Bellevue, WA, has been hired to increase visibility for the new small-ship cruises in North America via marketing and sales efforts. Travel Agent talked with Tom Russell, Global Voyage Group’s managing partner, about the news.
“This new little company is designed to be a retail [operation] of this important existing Russian waterways operator,” said Russell. But with so many great river lines already in the picture, though, how can this latest one compete? Will clients trust a new brand they don't know?
Russell emphasized that the new line already “owns a good number of ships” and, frankly, has been the source for Russian river product for practically everyone else in the river cruise business. Now World Quest Cruises will simply become visible in the retail marketplace, launching its own brand for sale in North America via Global Voyages Group.
It will also continue to provide space on a group basis to top tour operators who then sell the product under their own name.
A New Retail Brand
In 2014, the new brand will sell space to North Americans via travel agencies for eight- to 19-night voyages on existing Russian and Ukrainian river ships; these include the Chekhov, Dnieper Princess, Lavrinenkov and Rachmaninoff. “These are all ships they own,” says Russell. Prices will start at $2,100 per person double occupancy plus port taxes and fuel surcharges.
Popular river routes are Moscow to St. Petersburg; the Golden Ring cities; the Volga and Dnepr rivers; the Black Sea and Kiev to Odessa including Yalta and Sevastopol.
Russell said that by also continuing to provide product and space for tour operators, and that will prime the pump demand-wise for the following year. Then in 2015, World Quest Cruises will launch the revitalized 100-passenger Princess Anabella on its own 11-night Russian Waterways programs between Moscow and St. Petersburg.
“It will be beautiful as they’re taking it out the end of the previous season to be completely refurbished,” said Russell. He noted the updates will be akin to what was done for the ships of Uniworld, AmaWaterways and Grand Circle to appeal to a North American audience; all those ships started out as a part of an original series of ships, and all have been completely updated.
Russell stressed another point for travel agents: “Especially for the Russian Waterways programs, as World Quest Cruises is the owner and operator of the vessels being used, the prices for our programs are always at least 20% less than those of other Russian cruise operators.” Prices for the new 11-night Russian Waterways voyages will start at $4,495 per person double, plus port taxes and fuel surcharges.
Russell also said that the line gets the best choice of docking locations and shore tour components, given its lengthy experience and connections within Russia.
World Quest Cruises also will offer Douro River voyages from Portugal to Spain on Douro Princess. In addition, “they’re always looking to expand their reach in river cruising and have acquired the ship, Mekong Prestige,” said Russell. That ship will sail the Mekong River through Southeast Asia from Vietnam to Cambodia.
In addition, the World Quest Adventure Cruises division will operate voyages to the North Pole from Helsinki and Murmansk aboard a Russian nuclear icebreaker; cruises are between June 19 and Aug. 8.
“Through the owners’ close association with the Russian government, they have direct access to the “50 Years of Victory” ship,” said Russell. “It’s the largest nuclear powered icebreaker currently in operation.”
The company will also venture to Antarctica on the all-suite Sea Explorer. These expedition voyages will operate from Oct. 28, 2014 through March 16, 2015.
The Growth of Small Ship Cruising
Russell, an industry veteran, recalls that after he left Windstar Cruises and then joined Uniworld in 2006, he still had to explain to selling partners – when talking about river cruising – “what the devil it was.” The knowledge about the river cruise product really didn’t exist, he said. People just didn’t know what it was about and how it differed from ocean cruising.
Today, he believes that’s changed and consumer demand is strong. So while there are a slew of new operators and many new ships sailing global rivers in 2014, Russell isn't worried about too much river capacity growth.
“The phenomenal growth is really a percentage, and the absolute bed count increase is still nothing compared to what leaves Miami every Saturday,” Russell stressed, a reference to ocean cruising’s mega-ships and their thousands of added berths each year.
Russell said demand is growing as river cruisers enjoy ease of travel -- with no packing and unpacking every night -- as well as close-up views of scenery and city sights. "It’s much more about the destination,” he said. “It’s much better than an ocean cruise as guests are right in the middle of everything.”
His view is that the possibilities for river cruising are only limited by the speed that cities and ports along the rivers can build and accommodate more infrastructure, including locks and docking facilities.
Global Voyages Group will provide integrated marketing technology, sales and distribution services and reservations for the new line; call 877-282-5094. Brochures for the 2014 and 2015 programs for World Quest Cruises are available at www.worldquestcruises.com.