Sign Up for Our Monthly River Cruise Newsletter
During TravelAge West’s first-ever Future Leaders in Travel Retreat, held in September in Aspen, Colo., a storytelling contest was held to provide attendees with unique, personal perspectives on varying supplier products and philosophies. One of the participants was Shirnett Fleet, vice president of global marketing for Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection. Her engaging narrative gave attendees a behind-the-scenes look at the genesis of the U by Uniworld brand for younger travelers.
Here’s the abridged version, as told by Fleet.
“We had this interesting knowledge that we were all sitting on that had been simmering with us for the last couple years. Contiki is our sister brand, and one of the things that Contiki does at the end of a trip is a guest survey asking if they had a great time, what they liked, what they didn’t like and what their future travel plans are. For years, one of the questions was, ‘Would you ever go on a river cruise?’ And consistently, they answered, ‘Yes.’
So, we’re sitting in the office having this meeting about what we are going to do with River Baroness. And, suddenly, it was like a lightbulb went on off: ‘Hmm, you know, there’s a whole market out there of young travelers who have expressed interest in a river cruise, but there’s nothing out there for them.’
Now, we have a ship. Idea created. Mind blown. That was the moment that we came up with the idea that we were going to be the first to launch a river cruise for the next generation of travelers.
We said, if we’re going to do this, we are going to do it right. We’re not going to do just one ship. Let’s pull another ship out of the Uniworld fleet and do two ships. We picked another ship, and we decided we were going to take Baroness and River Ambassador and completely renovate them inside and outside, strip them down, rebuild them, and make them specific to a whole new generation. And, oh, let’s do it in, like, six months. Why not?
I’m listening as people are throwing their ideas out there, and I’m sitting there in my xennial self like, ‘Ooh, oh no. That’s a bad idea.
There we were in October 2016, and we started. We went to work on all the questions you have to ask. What will we call it? What will we offer? Where will we go? I was in all those meetings. I was on the key task force. Two pivotal things happened during that planning time that I want to share with you.
I was sitting in a senior leadership meeting one day with eight travel industry veterans around a table talking about what we’re going to do. What’s U by Uniworld going to be all about? How are we going to market it? How are we going to position it?
I will mention I was the only person under the age of 50 in that room, which is fine, which is good. I’m listening as people are throwing their ideas out there, and I’m sitting there in my xennial self like, ‘Ooh, oh no. That’s a bad idea. Oh, no, no, no. Oh no, not that. No!’ And the tipping point was when one of the execs was like, ‘I’ve got it. I know. Let’s partner with MTV.’
At that point, I remember thinking, ‘OK, we’ve got one shot to make this happen and make it work and be successful. We need to take a step back from what we know in the Uniworld world — which is a great world, but a totally different world — and we need to go and ask some millennials what they actually want, where they want to go and what they want to experience.’
We gathered a huge group of advisors — ranging from ages 21 to 45, from different nationalities, ethnicities, genders and marital statuses — and sat them down several times. We asked: ‘What do you think? What would you like to see? What kind of cruise would you like to go on? How many days would you like to spend? What cities would you like to go to, and how many days would you like to spend in them? What do you want to eat? What do you want to do?’ And that was how the product was developed.
The other pivotal thing that happened in those six months: Ellen Bettridge, our CEO, and I were at an event, and at this event, we were getting transported in one of the Contiki coaches. This thing was awesome. This thing was so sexy. It was all matte black.
Ellen and I both pulled out our phones right away, taking pictures. And we both looked at each other and said: ‘That’s what our ships are going to look like.’
No one has black ships. Everyone has white ships. They all look the same. We’re breaking the mold. We want black sexy ships.
Really that decision right there was the inspiration for the design of the ships. It started with the black exterior, and everything came from that: all the interior design, the uniforms that the staff wear and the marketing.
Here we are now in April 2017. We launch our website. We push out our marketing. We finally open up sales for booking. We’ve now officially launched. We’ve got one year before our two ships start sailing on the river.
I like to use the word ‘opportunity’ to talk about U by Uniworld. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the quote ‘Opportunity is kind of like a beautiful sunrise or sunset.’ If you don’t hurry up, you’re going to miss it, and we felt like this during the whole creation of U by Uniworld.
We had another opportunity that came to us. We got a call from the design team: ‘Hey, good news. The B is going to be done before we expect it, in the fall. She’s just going to be sitting there if you guys want to come, bring your crew, take some pictures, take some videos and start marketing.’
And we said: ‘Ooh, opportunity. Let’s bring people out there. Let’s get on the ship and do a preview cruise.’
Then we took a preview cruise, and I have to tell you, it was the most unexpected fun five days ever — from the drum circle on the top deck to the silent disco to the treasure hunt at the Louvre to a pajama party.
So, there we were in October last year, and we were getting ready to welcome onboard the first people who would ever step foot on U by Uniworld. We were nervous. We were scared. We were excited. We wondered: ‘Will they like it? Will this work?’
People started coming on the ship, and right away, people were looking around, and they told us ‘This doesn’t look like a riverboat. This doesn’t look like a ship. This looks like a hotel. This is like a W or a Moxy. This is really cool.’
And we thought, ‘OK, they like it.’
Then we took a preview cruise, and I have to tell you, it was the most unexpected fun five days ever — from the drum circle on the top deck to the silent disco to the treasure hunt at the Louvre to a pajama party. A few people came to us throughout the cruise and said, ‘This is really fun. It’s kind of like a sleepaway camp for grown-ups,’ or ‘I didn’t really think I was into cruising, but I think I’m kind of into cruising.’
At the end of the cruise, what we realized is that we had created this kind of social travel. By day two, people are interacting, and they’re just having a great time together. By the end of the trip, people are exchanging numbers. And we realized, ‘Oh my god, we did it.’”
The DetailsU by Uniworldhttps://www.ubyuniworld.com/us/