Ilich's plan pays off

ENCINO, Calif. -- Uniworld president Serba Ilich said his 1980s foray into European river cruising has paid off, with an estimated 33,000 passengers expected to book the firm's sailings next year.

The tour firm was among the pioneers of all-American charters on the Danube and Rhine rivers, where U.S. travelers previously had booked cruises where the food and service was tailored to a European clientele.

Many companies have since entered the market, such as St. Louis-based Intrav, which caters to deluxe clients, and Viking River Cruises, a Swiss firm with its own ships that opened an office in Woodland Hills, Calif., earlier this year.

"I welcome competition," Ilich said. "There are still not enough operators who are marketing river cruising to the U.S. traveler, so the more the merrier."

But Ilich has his limits. He filed a lawsuit in April against Viking, as well as against its 12 employees who came from Uniworld, including Viking's U.S. president, Rudi Schreiner.

The suit claimed that the employees were breaking Uniworld confidentiality agreements and that they had recruited other Uniworld employees for Viking while still working in Encino.

Schreiner said this was not the case. "After I left and they heard Viking was opening an office [in Woodland Hills], dozens of Uniworld employees asked if they could join me. It was spontaneous, there was no planned departure and our depositions revealed that to be true," he said.

No further action has been taken on the suit, which also claimed that Viking violated its marketing exclusivity agreement with Uniworld by opening a North American office.

"This would be true if Uniworld also had fulfilled its part of our agreement, but it did not," said Schreiner, referring to what he said was Uniworld's obligation to charter Viking ships.

"If the suit had merit, the judge would have scheduled a hearing, but that hasn't happened," said Schreiner, who also denied another accusation by Ilich, that Viking threatened not to honor some Uniworld bookings on its ships that had been made in 2000 for Uniworld clients.

-- D.A.S.

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