We take an in-depth look at the quickly expanding river cruise line and speak to brand manager David Winterton
Emerald Waterways launched in 2013, but feels anything but a newcomer. Founded as part of Scenic group by Glen Moroney, the line entered the market with its first Star-Ships, the Emerald Sky and Emerald Star, in 2014, and quickly became known for its value-for-money cruises and its fleet’s modern, clean décor.
Impressively, as the line has expanded by building new ships, it has also looked to broaden its horizons beyond the Rhine and Danube, the rivers on which it launched. Now chartering the Mekong Explorer in Southeast Asia, it has also just announced plans to build two new ships, the Emerald Liberte and Emerald Radiance, which will sail on some of Europe’s less-traversed rivers, the Rhone-Soane and Douro, when they launch in 2017.
Here, brand manager David Winterton, talks about Emerald Waterways remarkable rise.
What makes Emerald Waterways stand out from the pack?
We pride ourselves on our unique and innovative ships — a pool that turns into a cinema at night, the contemporary look and feel; in-cabin entertainment systems are powered by Apple TV. We have a very relaxed atmosphere on board the ship with a very informal dress code; we are an Australian-owned company and many of our guests on board are Australian, and they don’t really go for the formal dress code. We also include more than most of our key competitors — we include all tips.
Did you anticipate Emerald Waterways’ rapid growth?
We certainly didn’t. For our first year of sailing, 2014, we built two new ships and didn’t expect to build any more for a couple of years but with 2017 sailings now on sale, we will have seven ships, all built especially for Emerald Waterways. We don’t want to be the biggest river cruise line, we want to be the best at everything we do — the best ships, the best on board service, the best included shore excursion and have the best price with everything included to have a great holiday.
Talk us through the ships’ décor? It’s very modern
It is very modern, contemporary, with clean lines. We have been compared with the Apple Store and the W Hotel chain. As you walk on board you enter a three-floor atrium with large exotic plants and futuristic lighting.
The Horizon Bar has large floor-to-ceiling windows to watch the scenery go by and the comfy sofas are tones of grey. All cabins are fitted with white high gloss cabinets and the bathrooms have modern furnishings.
What’s included in the price?
We include everything that is needed to have the perfect holiday. Flights, accommodation in one of five grades of accommodation, all onboard meals, drinks with lunch and dinner, a daily shore excursion, free water in the cabin, free wi-fi and, most importantly, all tips saving up to £440 per couple.
Our guests and the market that we are in is very much price led, in terms of what is included. The biggest challenge that the river cruise companies have are ocean cruisers who go on a cruise at £399 for a week in the Mediterranean and see our prices that are over £1,000.
The challenge is for the river operators and travel agents is to compare like-for-like. So on board our ships, everything that is needed is included in the price versus an ocean cruise, where customers pay £399, but pay for absolutely everything once they get on board, from wi-fi to all the shore excursions. From a customer point of view, ‘all-inclusive’ isn’t the key, it’s value for money. They want as much as possible to be included, but they also want the price to be valuable.
What customers expect from the Rhône/Saône and Douro itineraries?
The Douro and Rhone are new rivers for us in 2017. Sales on these two new itineraries have started off extremely well. The ships are being built in the same innovative features as the current ships on the Rhine, Main, Danube with just a few tweaks as they are smaller in size, such as the Radiance has a small pool on the Sun Deck to take advantage of the Portuguese weather.
The Radiance won’t have the famous Emerald Waterways cinema — was that a difficult decision to make?
The pool that turns into the cinema is one of our key selling points, but the reason we’re doing it on the Emerald Radiance is that the Douro is a much smaller river. It would have been a luxury for us to have, instead we’re moving the pool to the sundeck. But all the guests will be able to see the same films in the cabins as all the cabins have Apple TV and all the films are on that!
Are you looking to expand into Asia?
That is an area we are seriously looking at. We have chartered the Mekong Navigator, that will sail for us this year and next year. Sales have been fantastic, especially with our loyal guests, who have already been with us, it’s a great alternative for them. And it’s such an amazing place, it’s certainly on our radar.
How important is the trade to Emerald Waterways?
I am actually from a trade background myself. I worked for Co-operative travel and Thomson for many years and so I am a very big fan of working closely with our travel agency friends. Everything we do at Emerald Waterways has the trade in mind. We have one pricing policy and we promote the trade on brochures, direct mailings and television ads. We are aware river cruising may be new to many agents and so we want to help them grow their river cruise business by offering advice and training on the market in general.
How can travel agents find out more?
We have a great team of sales managers on the road — headed up by Ang (National Sales Manager), Lucy (south), Dawn (midlands) and William (North & Scotland) — plus we have a Jasmin and Cat in the office. We are keen to get involved in training staff, helping with customer information sessions and general marketing.