Anthony Pearce talks to Pam Hoffee and Giles Hawke from the river cruise line that is always innovating and embracing the most interesting travel trends
River is the fastest‑growing sector in the cruise industry for a reason: in recent years it has quietly reinvented itself through bold, clever innovation that often goes unremarked upon. One line that has been at the forefront of this is Avalon Waterways, which continues to embrace some of the sector’s most interesting trends. These include: expansion into Southeast Asia; multi-river iterinaries (plus pre-and-post stays); active excursions and waiving single supplements.
What’s more, from next year, Avalon’s entire European fleet will consis of what it calls suite ships. “Eighty per cent of rooms have a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling window that opens,” says Pam Hoffee, managing director of Avalon Waterways and chief operating officer of the Globus family of brands, of which Cosmos is also a part. “You can turn your entire stateroom into a balcony when you want it and, when you don’t, close it without losing any of your space. It’s a really innovative design.
“As part of that, we also angled our beds to the wall in the stateroom to make the bathoom bigger. By putting the bed at that angle it faces the view – we were the first river cruise line to do that. Guests can be sat up in bed watching the ever-changing views.”
These Panorama Suites make up four-fifths of what’s on board the fleet. “For the trade,” adds Hoffee, “it’s a really easy product to sell.” It’s made simpler, too, by the fact that nearly everyhing is included in the price. “The holiday starts right at your door,” says Hoffee, reeling off a list covering home pick-ups, flights, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, sparkling wine at breakfast, gratuities, all excursions, plus coffees and pastries all day – all included.
Giles Hawke, CEO of Avalon and Cosmos, adds: “Our home pick-up is private. There’s no combining people in the same area, it’s your private chauffeur. It’s what our guests want.”
The company, says Hawke, is “five-star luxury, but without the “stuffiness”. “It’s relaxed, casual luxury,” he says. We’ve made a conscious decision not to have butlers, not to have white-glove service, not to have the obsequiousness of someone hanging over you the whole time.”
The company also recently introduced Avalon Choice, categorising daily excursions into three classifications: Classic, Active (such as cycling, paddling and hiking) and Discovery. “Deep immersion into a destination,” says Hoffee of the latter. “That could be cooking or painting classes, working on a farm, meeting local producers, wine tastings.”
It has also introduced Active Discovery cruises on the Danube, Rhine and, as of next year, on the Rhône. “If you were to look at our classic cruises, it’s about 80 per cent Classic excursions, then 20 per cent between Active and Discovery. On Active Discovery cruises, we flip that percentage over,” says Hoffee.
Another new addition is the Avalon Go app. Aimed at those who want to go out on their own, rather than take excursions, It is – again – quietly revolutionary. The content, tailored to each itinerary, includes GPS maps and information that can be downloaded and viewed offline (“A little cruise director in your pocket,” says Hoffee).
Another big plus point is that the line reserves up to seven staterooms with no single suppplement. “It’s our most popular promotion by far,” Hoffee adds.