Globus and Cosmos Launches New Division

Tour giant expands into European river cruise market

By: Theresa Norton Masek

It’s been said that river cruising is today’s version of the European motorcoach tour.

If so, it makes perfect sense that Globus and Cosmos, the Littleton, Colo.-based tour giant, is expanding into the fast-growing river cruise market.

Its new division, called Avalon Waterways, will launch its inaugural season in April with the year-old, 146-passenger Symphony.

Then, in May, the new 178-passenger Artistry will make its debut.

The two vessels in 2004 will offer six itineraries of nine to 19 days in Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

The $2 billion Globus and Cosmos family of brands decided to create its own river cruise product after offering charters on third-party operators for some time.

“We figured that we’ve got the size and scope to do this ourselves,” said Michael Schields, Avalon’s new managing director. “One other dynamic that made this decision easier is the general explosion of this niche it’s really taken off. It’s becoming more of an American product.”

Avalon is aimed solely at the North American market, with English-speaking staff, non-smoking rooms, and European cuisine tailored to the American palate.

A German company called Premicon built and owns the Symphony and Artistry and is leasing them to Avalon, which is operating and staffing the vessels.

The timing also is right for Globus and Cosmos to enter the evolving river cruise market, Schields said, because vessel construction is reaching a new phase.

“We’re starting to see a revolution in river ship design much as we did with purpose-built cruise ships in the mid-1980s,” Schields said. “Cabins are bigger and with balconies, and the next thing you know, we’ll be delivering a standard of service at a new level.”

The Artistry will have some of features not commonly found on its competitors. For example, all of the staterooms face outside and 70 percent have a French balcony that extends out about two feet. No cabins have portholes.

Staterooms measure 172 square feet, making them comparable or even larger than those on ocean-going ships.

What’s more, every cabin on the Artistry will have Internet access for a fee from the in-room TV screens and keyboards.

Cabins will also have granite bathrooms, a telephone, a satellite TV, minibar, a safe and a hair dryer.

Smoking will be prohibited throughout both ships’ interiors, Schields said, even in crew quarters. Smoking will be allowed outside on deck.

Globus will operate the land tours offered as part of the river cruises.

“That provides a seamless type of operation,” Schields said. “We’re not passing the baton to another company.”

Most land tours are included; optional outings are available at additional cost. Schields said per-diem costs are $200 to $250, including air. Fares also include tours and wine with onboard dinners.

While Avalon will promote its own brand with dedicated brochures and marketing, Globus will also sell the Avalon cruises in its brochures.

Avalon will grow quickly, Schields predicted.

“We’ve already committed to a third vessel to be delivered in spring 2005,” Schields said. “I don’t see absolutely anything that would slow the company down in its desire to expand this market and give our entrenched competitors a run for their money.”