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Ellen Bettridge describes her new position as president and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection as her dream job.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am about this,” Bettridge told me, on the heels of meetings with Virtuoso and AAA agents, before she had even moved into her California office. “It’s the job I always wanted: to be president at a time of exciting development. I see myself in this position for the rest of my career. I need to make things happen; I can’t stand still.”
Bettridge comes to Uniworld after serving as vice president of sales and marketing for Azamara Club Cruises, where she was responsible for growing Azamara’s markets in the Americas and developing strategic relationships with trade and marketing partners. Previously, she also served as president of Americas for Silversea Cruises, where she developed and implemented successful sales strategies and marketing campaigns throughout the U.S., Canada and Latin America. Additionally, she spent more than 20 years with American Express, first as a travel counselor and most recently as vice president of retail travel business, managing 300 employees, 150 franchise partners and travel and financial services in 28 locations in the U.S.
Bettridge will now be responsible for growing and expanding Uniworld’s business worldwide, including operations and financial performance, product development, guest experience, service enrichment and onboard/onshore programming. She says her immediate priority is to leverage her trade relationships and create new ones, as river cruising is bringing her in contact with travel agents she has never before encountered.
“It’s a concern that many of them haven’t experienced the product,” she said. “We must get them on ships. At Virtuoso, I gave out dozens of cruises; we’re taking advantage of the softness of the market to get agents clear on the brand’s distinction. Many still consider river cruise lines in one category, and the brands are really starting to distinguish themselves from one another, the same way it happened in seagoing cruising.”
She sees a vast difference between Uniworld and other brands, calling the line the “Ritz-Carlton of river cruising.”
“The ships are spectacular, floating Red Carnation hotels, and the crew really are all members of the Uniworld family,” she said. “I had emails from individual crew members welcoming me and introducing me to what they call TNT: Tiny Noticeable Touches.”
She says among the line’s distinguishing factors is the food, which she describes as sophisticated but homey; the company uses family recipes from the owners of Red Carnation Hotel Collection. In addition, there’s a wellness coach on every cruise offering yoga, biking, hiking, nutrition classes, massages and new healthful menus.
“This keeps people moving and engages all ages,” Bettridge said.
Uniworld is also ramping up its family program, Generations, with a kids’ menu and different shore excursions tailored for kids, families and adults. There’s a dedicated host for young cruisers on these Uniworld sailings.
Bettridge says Uniworld is not interested in expanding into seagoing cruises and ships. She adds that she asked Brett Tollman — CEO of The Travel Corporation, Uniworld’s parent company — that question, and he said the company is going to concentrate on river cruising.
“But never say never,” she said.
In March, Uniworld will be bringing out the new Joie de Vivre ship, and Bettridge is optimistic about recovery in Europe.
“This softness is a moment in time,” she said. “The true travelers are very resilient; we may have a nice big surge of business next year.”