A suite on Ganges Voyager I, which is set to debut in January 2015 // © 2014 Haimark Ltd.
Feature Image (above): Ganges Voyager I will sail seven-night cruises round trip from Calcutta. // © 2014 Thinkstock
If you aren’t familiar with cruises operated by Haimark Ltd., this information will be an eye opener: Haimark pays 15 to 40 percent commission on river cruises and the company’s luxury ship sailings are being chartered by lines such as Avalon Waterways and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection.
Haimark ships start sailing this month on rivers from Asia to the Amazon and in the Great Lakes, Panama Canal and Central and South America. The company, which is just under 3 years old, has nine ships scheduled for delivery beginning this month and will be fully deployed by year-end 2015.
Haimark’s business arrangements vary. In some cases, a single cruise line charters a Haimark ship in full for years ahead. A more common pattern is that different river cruise lines will block out sets of sailings for charters during the year, and the company will sell the remaining departures itself.
Haimark was founded by three friends who are also tourism industry veterans with more than 70 years of collective experience. Principals include the Vietnamese Hai Giang, the American Tom Markwell and the Austrian Marcus Leskovar, all former executives with Pandaw River Cruises. The partners handled land arrangements for Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Avalon Waterways while at Pandaw, and they saw a need for new ships that could provide European levels of comfort and service on the Mekong and the Irrawaddy rivers.
“The U.S. market is relationship-driven, much more than international markets are,” said Markwell, managing partner of sales and marketing for Haimark. “So when we opened Haimark, we already had strong relationships with some of the river cruise lines. It was an amazing thing to open the door, turn on the lights and generate more than 4,000 passengers in during the first year throughout Vietnam & Cambodia.
Commitment to Travel Agents
Markwell emphasized the company’s commitment to travel agents, with commissions starting at 15 percent for individual (FIT) bookings and going up to 40 percent on some products for groups booked through Haimark.
“As of Nov. 1, agents will have access to a full booking system with live inventory on our website,” Markwell said. “We have a dedicated groups and charter person — Cheryl Jensen — and we can provide some customization for a full ship charter, which requires only 24 to 68 guests.”
The group’s builder partner urged the company to put ships on the Ganges river. After many visits to the area, a spectacular itinerary was set that takes guests to seldom seen places, including a dolphin preserve. Ganges Voyager I will launch in January 2015 with seven-night cruises round-trip from Calcutta. Ganges Voyager II launches Jan. 6, 2016.
“It really is an obvious move,” Markwell stated. “India is an underserved market on so many bucket lists, and the reason people don’t go is usually fear. We give them an all-suite, five-star environment.”
Meanwhile, Avalon turned to Haimark when the line wanted to bring the next generation Panorama-class ships to Asia.
“We have a great relationship with them, and more than any other client, they work with us hand in hand on every detail,” Markwell said. “It has become clear that Southeast Asia is not a passing fad.”
Haimark created Avalon Siem Reap, which will launch in January, as well as Avalon Myanmar, which launches Oct. 15.
A landmark ship coming up is the 24-passenger Mekong Princess, which in September 2015 will introduce an all-suite spa concept that is new to river cruising. Haimark has developed a very intensive menu of spa treatments, offered in the suites in addition to two treatment rooms with Ashiatsu ceiling bars. According to Markwell, spa cuisine will be spectacular.
The company just signed an agreement to build the 44-guest Amazon Discovery, which will debut Oct. 5, 2015, on six-night cruises in the Peruvian Amazon with staterooms ranging from 237 square feet to 597 square feet.
“We identified a gap in quality,” Markwell said. “There are two-star ships and then very high-end ships with very high per diems. The pool of prospective guests dries up at that level, and we saw a place for a very high-level product operating with lower margins to offer real value. Then, you open up a tremendous market that previously ran for the hills when they saw the price point.”
In addition, the company’s first seagoing ship will launch in May 2015. The 220-passenger Saint Laurent was originally built in 2001 as the Cape May Light and recently sailed as Sea Voyager. The ship is undergoing a major refurbishment and will offer Great Lakes cruises and sailings through the St. Lawrence Seaway, Canada/New England,along the coast of Central and South America and in the Panama Canal.