Tauck last week announced its first new river ship in four years, which will offer the company's first cruises on Portugal's Douro River. Senior editor Jeri Clausing talked with Tauck CEO Dan Mahar about the vessel, the Andorinha, and how it fits with the company's overall positioning in the highly competitive, fast-evolving river cruise space.
Q: Tell me a bit about your ship and your plans for sailing in Portugal.
A: We are very excited about it. It's our first ship on the Douro. We operate land tours in Portugal, but this is our first time having a river cruise. So this will be great for our customers who want to bookend land packages as well.
Q: You say this will be the smallest ship operated by the major lines on the Douro. What else makes the Andorinha unique?
A: We are taking the same ship design, cabinwise, that we have on the Rhine, Rhone, Seine and the Danube and are bringing it to Portugal. From a guest perspective, that is really important. They love that consistency. And part of what makes our ships unique everywhere is they have many fewer customers per ship. So the cabins are larger, there are more dining options and there is just more space.
For the Douro, this ship will also be designed to take advantage of the really stunning and beautiful climate there year-round. It's very much an outdoor environment pretty much March through November, so there will be a pool, an outdoor top-deck bar and more outside experiences.
Q: The river cruise industry has really evolved in recent years. What do you see as the biggest change over the past decade or so?
A: I think the biggest change is the way customers want to experience and engage with a destination. That continues to evolve. At a high level, I think our guests are looking at a marriage between meaning and ease in their travel. Certainly on the meaning side, they are now seeking to explore. They want to experience something beyond the ordinary, something more immersive and very genuine. That takes work. Our guests want to be fully present while they are there, but there are a lot of logistics. That's where ease comes in. We take care of all the logistical challenges to give guests meaning and ease.
The type of experiences the guests are seeking has also continued to evolve. Now we have a lot more culinary options for foodies and things like wine tastings. There is also a much more active element, so we have made great bike rides and great hikes available.
We find that our customers don't want just one thing. They don't want to bike every day or have a wine tasting every day of the week. They want an experience that includes all of the elements.
Q: The competition in this space seems very intense, with everyone copying what everyone else is doing as they rush to attract a new generation of travelers. What is Tauck's most distinguishing characteristic?
A: The main thing is what it has been from the beginning: authentic. We offer an unmatched destination experience. We've been running land tours since 1925. We've been able to take that land experience and apply it to our river cruises.
Q: Can we expect more news about new ships from Tauck in the near future?
A: We are always looking ahead to our next riverboat. We have one planned, but I can't share that yet. We have been building out our small-ship partnership with Ponant. And we will continue adding capacity for river cruise, as well. We call it Tauck H2O. We are very optimistic about the future of river cruising, because it's a wonderful way to travel. It's elegant and easy.