Last month, legendary travel consultant and Travel Weekly contributor Richard Turen raised fears with his column, titled "A security concern on Europe's rivers," mostly because the headline was ... well, scary. And maybe that was his point.
The headline seems particularly incongruous and alarmist since the column started on a positive note, citing the many joys of river cruising, only to segue into a false perception of unknown peril with no facts to back up the claim.
After describing an enjoyable river cruise on the Danube, Turen recalled asking members of his group if they would take a river cruise again. Despite thoroughly enjoying the experience, some said they wouldn't. The reason was that they questioned the security of the product.
So, the "security concern" proposed by the headline was not reflective of any actual events or studies regarding river boat cruising. Instead, it was based solely on the perception of some guests who possessed no expertise or experience in the matter. (One can argue that "perception is reality," but in this case it is not.) In fact, Turen himself cited river cruising's impressive safety record, which would seem to contradict the existence of any real security concern.
Perhaps most telling is Turen's phrasing of the situation. He stated that some of the members of his group had been "discussing the seemingly total lack of real security onboard." It is one thing to note that guests do not see the security measures made on their behalf, but it is quite another to assume that they do not exist at all.
In fact, on Uniworld's cruises there is constant vigilance and security in place at all times, even if it is so seamless that it might not be seen by guests, much as Turen noted about Israeli security at Tel Aviv airport, which has an impeccable record. You don't see it, but it is there.
This is where I would like to set the record straight: River cruising is safe, and Uniworld has impressive, significant policies and systems in place that were not highlighted in Turen's column -- as safe as anyone can be in this world at any moment, anywhere.
We live in uncertain, sometimes angry times, but we see people being more resilient than ever to travel and eager to experience our amazing, beautiful world. We don't believe there is any place for fear mongering though. What for? What is the endgame? In its next issue, will Travel Weekly focus on how unsafe the huge ocean cruise ships of today are? Or beachfront resorts? Or attending an open-air music concert?
Agents should know that they can book our Uniworld cruises with complete confidence. They must be prepared to discuss security concerns frankly and fully armed with the facts. At Uniworld, the safety of our guests and crew is paramount. We also listen to and speak with the guests all the time (which Turen mentions in his column). Several years ago, some of the questions and concerns Turen reported hearing on his cruise were raised with us, and so we implemented additional significant security steps which have been in place for some time now.
A Uniworld brochure displaying the river cruise line’s security measures, which include the use of strict keycard access, uniformed security personnel, security camera systems and regular ship patrols.
In addition to monitoring worldwide threat levels through CLIA's Global Security Committee and working closely with local authorities in the ports we serve, Uniworld has taken the following, deliberate and consistently applied measures across our fleet:
- Trained, full-time, dedicated, uniformed security professionals are posted at the gangway 24 hours a day. This is all they do. These additional positions, added two years ago, are our own security personnel, not contracted through a third party. (Turen incorrectly stated in his column that Tauck is the only company to do so, though he contradicted himself later in the column, asserting that we do so, too.) I'd also point out that we have a double-page spread in our brochure that addresses our elevated security efforts and practices.
- When one of our ships is in port and connected to another vessel, our staff are positioned in the lobby at all times to monitor and control walk-throughs by the other ship's guests.
- Only guests with active keycards may board at any time, and boarding requires a digital photo ID system connected to the active keycard.
- There is a red emergency contact button in every stateroom and suite.
- All exterior access points and doors are locked at all times when in port.
- Our personnel verify all luggage against the final manifest at check-in.
- Crew inspect all deliveries thoroughly before granting delivery people permission to board.
- Security camera systems monitor the entrance to the ships and public areas 24/7.
- All front desks are staffed 24/7, and crew members patrol the ships throughout the night, so there is constant vigilance onboard.
This information is already available to our agent partners and guests, and it is also printed in every brochure.
Further, in the new year we will make an even more concerted effort to ensure that our approach to security is understood fully by those who sell, those who serve onboard and those who experience Uniworld.
Perhaps most important -- and despite our consistent record of safety -- we don't rest on our laurels. Procedures and protocols are reviewed regularly to ensure best established practices are in place. This is part of the culture of the Travel Corporation of which Uniworld is a proud member.
We put our customers at the heart of everything we do. Their well-being when traveling with us is of paramount importance. I am proud to be among the Travel Corporation's travel brands and its long-standing, outstanding history. Let me assure you that throughout the history of our brand, the safety and well-being of our guests and employees has always been a key priority.
Philosopher David Hume said, "A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence." I could not agree more, and here the facts are clear: River cruising, like nearly all travel, is safe.
For 40 years, Uniworld has been committed to sharing the effortless luxury of river cruising, and while we certainly don't expect that every story that Travel Weekly publishes will be positive, we do expect that the leading publication of our industry would not contribute to the growing anxiety among those who would travel.
Thank you, Travel Weekly, for allowing us to share our side of the story.
Ellen Bettridge is president and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection.