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Small ship strategy, giant steps

Fri 28 Apr 2017 by Rebecca Moore

Small ship strategy, giant steps
Tauck's Sapphire has undergone a refir as part of a river cruise fleet refit programme

Tauck is growing rapidly in both its river cruise business and its ocean cruises. Its president Jennifer Tombaugh explains how the operator is achieving this

US operator Tauck has refitted two of its river vessels and plans to refit the rest of its 110m vessels for 2018 – as well as doubling its small ship cruising capacity.

The company differs from other cruise operators as, in addition to its river cruising focus, it runs small ship cruises through partnerships with other cruise companies, such as Ponant and Windstar Cruises, rather than running its own vessels.

Speaking generally about Tauck’s overall strategy, its president Jennifer Tombaugh said: “Small ship cruising seems to be the way people want to go. It is more intimate. Tauck is a player in the small ship cruising market. We have been doing this for 25 years, and we do small better than anyone else – and we are growing. Our challenge is how to do things better. We up our game every year.”

Homing in on the river cruise part of Tauck’s business, Ms Tombaugh said: “Growth in the river cruise sector is a big part of our strategy for 2017. We are looking at small ship growth, and how river operations influence the small ship design.”

Tauck owns nine river cruise vessels in Europe – four 135m ships and five 110m vessels.

“We have the largest cabins,” Ms Tombaugh said. “Others might have 190 passengers, while we have 110 and sometimes fewer than 100.”

Reducing the number of people on its river cruise vessels and increasing the size of cabins is an important part of Tauck’s strategy, and to this end it has embarked on a river cruise fleet refit programme. In a two-year initiative to reconfigure more than 50 per cent of the company’s European river boat fleet, the most dramatic enhancement aboard each ship will take place on the Ruby deck (the middle deck), where 30 cabins of 46m2 in the original configuration will be replaced with 20 cabins each measuring 69m2.

Aboard each reconfigured vessel, 69 per cent of all cabins will be 69m2 or larger – which Tauck claims will be the highest percentage of such cabins on any 110m river boat in Europe. In addition, overall capacity will be reduced from 118 passengers to 98, with the total number of cabins on each vessel going from 59 to 49.

Tauck’s reconfigured Sapphire and Emerald have undergone the refit and were launched back onto the market in April this year.

Ms Tombaugh said: “We will do exactly the same thing to the other 110m vessels for 2018. Fifty per cent of people on our river cruise ships have not experienced us before. They will go onto a small ship which plays well with our exotic land product.”

With regard to Tauck’s plans to add newbuildings to its river cruise fleet, Ms Tombaugh said: “We plan to add more ships, and we will. It is just a question of when. We are responding to demand.”

 

“We plan to add more ships. It is just a question of when.” Jennifer Tombaugh, Tauck

 

Speaking about possible new destinations, she singled out Russia. She said that Tauck would “love” to add that part of the world, but it would be difficult because of the number and nature of regulations there.

Elsewhere, Tauck has announced the company’s four-year plan to double its small ship cruising capacity through strategic fleet expansion, deepened partnership programmes and new itineraries. Ms Tombaugh said: “A key part of our growth is our partnership with Ponant.”

Ponant, the French cruise line, will debut four new luxury expedition yachts in 2018 and 2019. As part of an expanded partnership, Tauck will be offering all four Ponant newbuilds, starting with Le Lapérouse in summer 2018. 

“Today, Tauck utilises five Ponant ships for 10 itineraries. By 2020 we will be sailing on nine Ponant ships, further supporting our investment in growing the category,” added Ms Tombaugh.

As well as Ponant, Tauck has a partnership with Seattle-based Windstar Cruises, with its Wind Star, Star Pride, Star Breeze and Star Legend vessels.

Ms Tombaugh said that there was a “big opportunity for growth” in expedition cruising but ruled out building ocean-going cruise vessels, explaining that Tauck intended to grow through partnerships with other cruise companies.

“We have terrific partners and can work with them on our destinations. I cannot see us building a ship on our own. Our strength is in building great destinations, and matching our expertise to partnerships. We pair ships with destinations, starting with the itinerary and then finding a ship to match it. We are flexible thanks to our partnerships.”

Ms Tombaugh summed up Tauck’s position in the market, for both its small ship cruising and its river cruise business. “We are small in the grand scheme and we like to think we are a leader in innovation. We are in small ships and we are growing through partnerships.”