This year, CroisiEurope celebrates 40 years in the business. Founded by Gérard Schmitter in Strasbourg, France in 1976, the line remains 100 per cent family owned and has maintained its reputation as a pioneer and provider of excellent value-for-money cruises. It is now one of the largest and most innovative river cruise lines in the world.
As the line turns 40, the Princess Elbe, which launched in April, joins Princess Loire as the only paddlewheel ships in Europe, while the Ms Daniele and Deborah, both barges, will also join the fleet. At Clia’s recent River Cruise Convention, the company announced exciting plans to sail on the Mississippi and Amazon.
We spoke to Michel Grimm, international sales director, about what makes CroisiEuorpe unique and what passengers and agents can expect in 2016.
Can you tell us more about CroisiEurope’s 40th birthday plans?
We have one big event [in particular]: a 40-day cruise through Europe. It’s a cruise that starts in Spain and ends at the Black Sea. It’s a cruise you can only do once in your lifetime. From Spain we reach Portugal, then the Seine. From there we transfer people to the Rhine, then from Amsterdam down to the Black Sea it is non-stop on the rivers!
What sets CroisiEurope apart from other river cruise lines?
It’s still a 100 per cent family owned company, so all the decisions are being taken by the family. We are not only a river cruise company — we build, we own, we operate and we sail cruises, which means we have complete control, from the day we buy the metal until we serve the coffee on board. It means we control the costs and this allows us to provide the best value for different markets. We have some exclusive destinations — such as Loire and Tisza in Hungary — and a large choice of cruise duration: the shortest is three days, the longest is 19 days. The company has always been a pioneer in cruise development, which is why we have this new ship — the paddlewheeler — that we operate on the Loire, and that we will now also operate on the Elbe. The technology is there to provide a solution to a cruising problem — those rivers are well known for being a challenge because of the water levels.
Croisi is known for its food — what can guests expect on board?
I don’t know if it’s a good argument, but let’s say it’s French quality. So if you say French food is not too bad, I would take it as positive! It’s true we have a very good reputation for our food. We have partnerships with Michelin- star chefs — such as[Paul] Bocuse and [Marc] Haeberlin — which means what we provide on board is of a very good quality, in terms of taste and style. Our improvement now, as we become more and more international, is to provide an adaptation with the way we serve food, maybe including a buffet. And with the wine — your drinks are included — Our guests are very happy — especially after their lunch!
What is the future for CroisiEurope?
We do want to develop our Asian market, which is why we’re building a new ship [due in 2017], but we want to grow step-by-step. The choice of developing a new destination or new ship depends on our needs. We develop new ships for new destination, but we also build ships to replace old ones, so in the near future, we’ll have more destinations, more ships, but also a higher level of ships.
Tell us about the Flanders cruises
We started these in 2015. We have small ships that operate in Belgium, so we had the idea to build specific itineraries through Flanders and the cruise is exactly where all this big World War One battles happened, such as Ypres and Passendale. So we have this unique programme, between Ostend and Lille. This year we had two departures, next year we will have two and, in 2017, we will have four. We try to build new programmes that are unusual, that provide you with a very original way to travel and discover these places, and the culture and history they contain.
Gabrielle Alam, head of sales and marketing, UK
What are the unique selling points of CroisiEurope?
In addition to the tried and tested itineraries, we offer places and rivers where no one else goes. For example, the river Loire in France – there is no one else there except for CroisiEurope. Secondly, there is our value for money. We are a four-star premium company. Our average value is £30 per person per day and that is all inclusive, meaning full-board and drinks at the bar.
Do you have an international clientele?
There is a wonderful atmosphere on board; 50 per cent of our clients are international guests, so the languages on board are English, French and other European tongues. Of those, the highest proportion of international guests are British and Scandinavian.
What can guests expect from the Elbe Princess?
The Elbe Princess is the sister ship of the Loire Princess, the only European paddlewheeler, which is how we can sail the river Loire. On the Elbe there are similar challenges, with water levels, and therefore we decided to build a second paddlewheeler. It can navigate very low water levels – with only a 90 cm draft – which is needed on the Elbe, especially if you want to sail into Prague.
How travel agent-friendly is CroisiEurope?
We are delighted to work with travel agents. We have a UK-based call centre in London, so we are able to assist travel agents and process their booking. About 60 per cent of our cruises are sold through the trade.
If an agent wants to start selling more CroisiEurope cruises what is the best way to do so?
We love to hear from travel agents – they can call 020 83281 281 or email email@example.com to find out more. As part of our 40th anniversary, we’re launching a number of FAM trips, which includes cruises on the Danube and Seine in Paris, making sure agents are well immersed in our product.