Tauck at Sea expands, gives cruise products a boost

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FORT LAUDERDALE -- During a panel discussion about niche cruise operators at the Cruise3sixty convention here, a travel agent raised her hand and asked whether tour operators entering into the cruise business was a trend.

If youre Tauck World Discovery, the answer is a most definite yes.

The company, which is known first and foremost as a tour operator, also is in the cruise business -- and not just in the river-cruise side of the business, where tour operators have long held a stake. Tauck is an oceangoing operator, too.

Tauck has, in fact, offered cruise tours since the mid-1980s.

But we didnt market them as cruises, said Michael Marino, Taucks senior manager of product operations.

Now, the company is working harder than ever to expand its cruise business, Tauck at Sea, and take advantage of cruise as a buzz word to expand its reach.

In a statement last month, Tauck said that the number of clients booking its cruise products grew 60% in 2005. It said it is anticipating continued dramatic growth in the category for 2006.

Robin Tauck, the company president, said advance bookings for the Treasures of the Aegean cruise are up 240%.

Tauck isnt the only operator drawing on the trend.

Abercrombie & Kent, for example, charters one of the American Safari yachts for its Alaska Inside Passage cruises and uses two 50-passenger vessels from Bora Bora Cruises to sail in the Tahitian Islands. Globus owns Avalon Waterways, a river-cruising firm in Europe.

The strategy to charter or take group space on different ships enables tour operators to offer a cruise program that is unusually diverse.

Taucks cruises are grouped loosely into three categories. The Elegant Yachts category includes the Windstar ships and smaller  French-owned masted yachts like Le Ponant.

The Expedition Vessels category includes Clipper Cruise Lines ships (each under 138 passengers), a 226-passenger vessel called Le Diamant that cruise aficionados will recognize as the former Song of Flower and the tiniest ship in the Tauck collection, the 40-passenger, 1,025-ton Isabela II.

A third category, Luxury Liners, includes midsize luxury ships and megaships.

About 20% of Taucks tours include a cruise component.

The prices on cruises include pre- and post-cruise stays, wine with dinner, tips and excursions, and are therefore higher than the lines rates.

Windstar Cruises seven-day cruises from Athens to Istanbul on the 149-passenger Wind Spirit or Wind Star begin at $3,399 per person, but Tauck is offering a package that includes the same cruise for $6,790 per-person.Tauck estimated its extras are worth around $3,330.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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