Uniworld Puts China Front and Center

Tour company sees exponential growth in bookings

By: David Peterkofsky

Anyone who questions China’s emergence as the hot destination in Asia need look no further than the experience of Uniworld to be persuaded. In 1999, the Encino, Calif.-based company escorted only 775 passengers to the destination; three years later, the company is on pace to host approximately 5,000 travelers there.

Uniworld anticipates that growth to continue into 2003.

“At this time, our 2003 China bookings are ahead of 2002 by about 20%,” said Sam Nee, Uniworld vice president of Asia. The company is offering the same set of China summer tours it offered last year, he added.

The tour operator attributes much of its success in China to its team of in-country tour managers, who complete an intensive training program prior to entering service. Uniworld requires each tour manager to be fluent in English and have a firm command of Chinese history.

Tour managers participate in all of Uniworld’s big-selling China packages, including its Yangtze River summer cruise-tours, which the company operates in conjunction with Victoria Cruises. The tours, which range from 11 to 21 days, start at $1,898 per person, including roundtrip air.

Clients choose from seven different Yangtze itineraries, including Highlights of China and the Eastern Yangtze, an 11-day itinerary with five days spent sailing the Yangtze from Wuhan to Nanjing, plus ample time in Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou. The trip is priced from $1,898 per person for a late March departure, with prices rising to $2,248 for peak-month departures in September and October.

On the other end of the scale is the 21-day Grand Tour of China and the Yangtze River tour, which includes a six-day Yangtze sailing, visits to Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, Suzhou and Guilin, ending with a two-night stay in Hong Kong. The Yangtze sailing travels through the Lesser Three Gorges and visits the Three Gorge Dam project, which will remain under construction until 2009. Air-inclusive prices for this trip range from $4,198 per person for a March 18, 2003, departure to $4,498 in September and October.

Not all of Uniworld’s China tours for next year involve the Yangtze. One package, The Best of China, brings travelers to Shanghai, Suzhou, Tongli, Beijing and Xian over the course of 12 days, followed by a three-day stay in Hong Kong. That itinerary starts at $3,098 per person, including air.

‘Value’ Specials Return

This winter marks the second year for Uniworld’s Super Value Holidays program, which offers specially priced single- or multiple-city packages from December to the end of March 2003. Uniworld made the winter-specials program available in July, and many departures are nearly sold out, according to the company.

Uniworld positions the off-peak Super Value itineraries as a way for travelers to experience China while avoiding crowds and hot summer weather. All packages include roundtrip air on United or Northwest airlines.

This year, Uniworld offers four land tours as part of the program:

Beijing Holiday, a seven-day program priced from $898, includes visits to the Great Wall, Ming Tombs and the Forbidden City, as well as deluxe hotel accommodations.

Shanghai Holiday, seven days priced from $898, includes a Shanghai city tour, with visits to the Bund, Old Town and tranquil Yu Yuan Garden.

Beijing and Shanghai, a nine-day program that combines the sights of both cities, starting at $1,198.

Beijing, Xian and Shanghai, a 10-day itinerary featuring the main highlights of Beijing and Shanghai and a visit to Xian to view the famed terra cotta warriors, starting at $1,398.

Nee pointed out that this year Uniworld incorporated its first cruise-tour into the Super Value Holidays program, a 12-night trip that visits the “big three” Beijing, Shanghai and Xian along with a four-night Yangtze Cruise. Prices start at $1,798 per person, including all meals. Call 800-733-7820. Web site: www.uni world.com.