One of Australia’s favourite luxury river cruise brands is heading in a new direction after discovering passengers have a bigger thirst for fun and excitement than they thought.
The line has already created a series of specially bundled deals that mean lower prices, and added new itineraries and a focus on younger travellers.
But now the new direction has been given fresh impetus after an APT Danube river cruise appeared on Channel Nine’s reality show Travel Guides.
The show takes Australians in several demographics – from a “bogan” family to a pair of well-healed retirees known as “the snobs” – in an often irreverent trial of travel experiences. The results can sometimes be brutal.
But APT’s ship and shore excursions faired well across all the participants – even the three younger men who were probably the most resistant to river cruising at the start. And travel agents received a large number of inquiries after the show’s unique slant on APT’s different offering.
The result is a new focus for the river line – exploring experiences, freedom and a new sense of fun. APT Chief Commercial Officer Debra Fox exclusively told River Cruise Passenger, that the company made a “daring decision that paid off.”
APT has historically run campaigns that reassure its clientele that “It’s got to be perfect” or that they can “live fully” because everything is taken care of.
Ms Fox says: “We’ve realised that the ‘fun’ aspect is so important. APT now has an exclusive entertainment couple on every vessel… they create an itinerary where every night is a party on board in some form or another.”
And their passengers have started to change.
“We are opening up the age-groups and removing the stereotypes. Now we just focus on having fun,” Ms Fox says, also pointing out that the APT target age group has lowered significantly in recent times also.
According to Ms Fox, “we were inundated over the following weeks (after Travel Guides aired) with feedback from travel agents about new clients coming in their doors to talk about river cruising… how they hadn’t really considered it and after watching the show thought it looked like a fantastic holiday option.”
Fox says the experiment has dispelled old myths about cruising around price, size, freedom of choice and demographic.
Cowgirl twin sisters Stack and Mel, for instance, took a spa in beer during one of the shore excursions.
Ms Fox says guests want more than just a competitive price. They want to break free of that concern and also the stereotype around luxury. What customers really desire is an authentic experience… not something that is quite sterilised and over manicured.
“People watching the show realised that river cruising is not sedentary. It is active, fun and they can make it their own,” said Ms Fox.
Fox says “we are showing our customers that we want them to be curious, to learn, to explore and to experience.”
There has been a recent significant price shift on their European river cruises. “We offer incredible value for money. We realised that the APT price point was coming under some pressure in 2017. So, we’ve made some adjustments to feel we now are at the right price point and we offer authentic experiences that money can’t buy.
Then there’s the fleet: “Next year, in November we are launching a brand-new ship on the Mekong. It is ultra-luxe, catering to the popular Indochine market and will span Cambodia and Vietnam. AmaMekong will cater to 88 guests in 44 rooms, with spacious balconies, butler service and a swimming pool. And celebrity chef Luke Nguyen has created the five-course menu onboard at Indochine restaurant.
The gourmet focus is actually spreading right across the line – with culinary cruising being in high demand. “Gourmet food & wine…It’s mandatory now with river cruising. APT offers exemplary dining choices, wine tasting in vineyards, exposure to different wine makers… it’s rule 101,” said Ms Fox.
“Wellness theme cruising is also a direction we are going in to provide that experience money can’t buy,” Ms Fox added.
And for new itineraries, “We are excited to be going back into Myanmar next year. We paused our river ship operations for some time, due to the political situation, but we will be re-launching there again next year.”