19 JUN 2017: It’s always a pleasure when someone you knew years ago surfaces in a new and exciting position. So, being (re)introduced to Avalon Waterways’ new managing director Terri Burke recently was a delightful surprise. Burke began as a travel agent in the US, going on to work with Holland America and Norwegian and was named to her current position about six months ago. Retiring managing director Patrick Clark is now chairman.  

Addressing the media in Toronto, Burke didn’t pull any punches, readily admitting 2016 was a “tough year.” However, the good news is that 2017 has shown double-digit growth and bookings for 2018 are trending even better than this year.

The big sellers remain the classic European itineraries Romantic Rhine, Blue Danube, A Taste of the Danube and itineraries including Paris and Provence. European Christmas-market sailings are also doing well.

In fact Avalon’s specialty cruises always do particularly well. Whether they feature history and culture, music, art, wine and beer or culinary specialties, there is no additional surcharge and passengers can choose their level of participation.

Special interest and themed cruises said Burke are, “space we like to say we really own.”

And not to be forgotten, one very big deal for singles, is the availability of a selected number of no-single supplement cabins on every European departure.

The two Asian itineraries offer 36 passengers, 245 sq ft staterooms and a crew of 24. The Mekong cruise from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap proving the best seller. Also popular is the Myanmar (formerly Burma) cruise from Yangon through to Mandalay and then Bhamo. The Avalon Saigon will be ready September 2018 for cruises through the heart of Cambodia and Vietnam and is expected to be a winner.

Any conversation with Avalon inevitably turns to the Panorama Suite Ships, which form 80 percent of their fleet. The large floor to ceiling windows/doors that essentially convert staterooms into wide open balconies with panoramic views visible even from one’s window facing bed.

At Avalon, it’s all “part of the art of making people feel at home”, suggests Burke, albeit a home with an ever-changing vista outside.

The “Open Air Balcony” remains a key component of the experience for Avalon’s river cruise guests said Burke, “They are truly one of our pillars.”

Avalon Choice launched in 2013 has proved to be a success, allowing travellers to customize their Globus or Monograms vacations by adding a pre- or post- Avalon cruise.

Avalon Community is also an interesting project. In Hungarian, Austrian and Slovakian destinations, firemen, hospital workers, and others from local communities are welcomed onboard to learn more about the ships, to meet and familiarize themselves with the crew.

Quite aside from demonstrating Avalon’s interest and investment in local communities, this helps Avalon build a bond with relevant authorities, who become familiar with the company, its ships, and would be more prepared to deal with any situations that might arise.

And guests are always, “invited to go beyond what’s happening on board,” said Burke.

Stéphanie Bishop, managing director for the Globus family of brands in Canada, talked of the Active Discovery cruises which will be inaugurated on the Danube this year. This series of unique experiences will give guests an opportunity to be active while learning about a destination.

“People are living a much more active lifestyle,” said Bishop, so now, included in the cruise price, three optional activities are offered each day - for example visiting a salt mine, jogging or hiking, or following a World War II smugglers’ route.

Some Active Discovery options planned for 2018 include a night watchman’s tour – others such as golf or archery, or a ‘Van Gogh painting class’ may be extra.

On the heels of its new partnership with the Wrenkh brothers to design Avalon Fresh, Avalon Waterways is also announcing its new director of culinary, Joerg Penneke, who with his team, will create daily menus using fresh local ingredients. Penneke will also oversee the new Avalon Fresh programme with chefs Leo and Karl Wrenkh to provide Avalon's guests healthy alternative dining options including a vegan option on the menu.

European wine and beer now included with lunch as well as dinner.

A few interesting statistics

• Charters have doubled over 2016.

• Singles have shown a 75% growth from 2017-2018.

• 84% of river cruise passengers come from ocean cruises

• 70% have previously travelled on a tour

These days, all travel and tourism related companies, particularly those catering to overseas tourism are generally asked for their views on how the current global political climate will impact their product and travel in general.

Both Burke and Bishop were in agreement that “Canadians will travel regardless”. Avalon’s numbers, have remained steady and bookings to France, which has seen recent terrorism activity, are up for 2017. Burke also noted that Christmas market itineraries are full.

However, the company is ‘mindful’ of the situation and security operations are in place.

And, should you be looking for a cruise - on 23 June 2018, Avalon’s new managing director will host Journeys Club Cruise, on the Tapestry II sailing from Paris to Normandy. Book it fast!

 

 

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