With its millennial-focused U by Uniworld brand, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is creating a product for 18- to 40-year-olds before any significant demand for such a product exists, according to river cruise specialists.

While that was the strategy employed to create the early ocean-cruising market, several specialists expressed skepticism about Uniworld's "if you build it, they will come" strategy for attracting young river cruisers.

"Uniworld's new product didn't strike me as something that there was any pre-existing demand for," said Don Baasch, owner of Las Vegas-based LastCallCruises. Still, he admitted, "Demand can be created for most anything."

Susan Wolfson, owner of Allentown, Pa.-based Go Astro Travel, an Avoya Travel affiliate, said she, too, felt that demand for river cruises aimed at millennials could be generated "with the right product and marketing."

She said one promising aspect of the product would be Uniworld's ability to cross-market with sister brand Contiki, a tour operator that caters to young travelers. The Travel Corporation owns both companies.

With the launch of U by Uniworld just as 2016 came to a close, Uniworld became the first major river cruise line to create a product dedicated solely to guests ages 18 to 40. Typically, river cruising appeals to baby boomers and retirees.

Uniworld will renovate two existing vessels, the River Baroness and River Ambassador, which launched in 1997 and 1999, respectively. Following renovations, both vessels will be dedicated entirely to the U by Uniworld brand. Sales of the brand will start in March, and the first sailings will begin in early 2018.

The 116-passenger sister ships are being transformed to have a more contemporary look and feel, featuring communal dining tables, a new culinary program, cocktail mixologists and international DJs onboard.

The company also said it plans to develop more immersive and experiential itineraries for the brand, with longer stays in each destination, more local experiences, access to nightlife, more free time and more adventurous excursions.

Jennifer Brammer, a Charlotte, N.C.-based AAA Travel sales specialist and a millennial herself, was on a Rhine River holiday markets cruise on Uniworld's Antoinette in December when she heard about the millennial brand from Uniworld CEO Ellen Bettridge.

"I think this is overdue," Brammer said. "But at the same time it's sort of the right timing because now enough of the younger generation has heard about river cruising and is interested. I really think they hit the nail on the head with simplifying the accommodations, adding more immersive excursions, spending more time in port and having more and better onboard entertainment."

She said that as a millennial, she likes what river cruising offers but would like to have more late-night entertainment options, for one thing.

"If the ship is not leaving [port] at 10 p.m. or earlier, then a concert or beer or bar crawl would be a pretty great way to experience the culture," Brammer said, adding that with later morning starts, "you also wouldn't have to worry about that 8 a.m. tour creeping up on you in the morning either. You'd be able to enjoy a night out and not feel like you're punishing yourself the next day of your vacation."

As a travel seller, she said she could see herself selling U by Uniworld for honeymoons or girls getaways.

Brammer and other travel sellers were all curious about pricing, which Uniworld has not yet revealed.

Wolfson said she would definitely consider selling the product, and she said that honeymooners seemed like a potential great fit. But she added that "pricing will be critical in the success of this new line."

While Uniworld has not yet provided pricing information, typically when there is more free time and fewer inclusions, pricing is lower than a fully inclusive product such as the main Uniworld brand, which has evolved into a high-end, six-star travel product.

Pete Larson, owner of river cruise specialist agency River Cruise Guru, said a lower-priced product that is less inclusive doesn't necessarily mean a cheaper vacation in the end.

"Reducing inclusions means more things they would have to purchase to meet their needs," he said. "In the end, it drives the price higher and lessens the affordability. They still have to purchase expensive airfare to come and go, no matter how low they price the cruise."

Larson said he was not yet convinced of the potential appeal of U by Uniworld.

"In my long history in the travel business, I've never had a group of millennials come to me with river cruising interest," he said. "And I've been focused on river cruises since before most travel agents knew what they were."

Larson said that dedicating two ships to the millennial market was "a long shot at best" in terms of being able to sell that much inventory.

"I have these visions of these ships blaring techno music all night, stripper poles, pools filled with Jell-O and kids vomiting off the French balconies -- spring break on the rivers," he said.

But like other travel sellers, there were several aspects of the product that Larson applauded, including that passengers will be spending more time in port and will have more free time to explore.

While Baasch, too, had some reservations about whether the millennial demographic will bite, he concluded, "It wouldn't sell itself, but put together an attractive package and market it right and you would certainly get some takers."

Addressing skepticism about the product, Uniworld responded, "We do believe that a river cruise product specifically geared toward millennials will be very desirable, especially with the right product and experiences. The key will be to drive greater awareness and understanding of river cruising among that segment."

The company added: "Travel Weekly published an article in August 2016 citing a study conducted by AAA, which stated that 'millennials found the listed attributes of river cruising more appealing than other generations on virtually every count -- with the ability to visit unique destinations not accessible to larger ships rating highly among millennials.' That research is inspiring and keeps us optimistic about the future of U by Uniworld."

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