In a world in which “experiences” have become part and parcel of the current travel lexicon, U by Uniworld sets itself apart. The first river cruise dedicated to a new generation of travelers, U by Uniworld offers immersive adventures along the Seine, Main, Rhine, and Danube rivers in Europe – with other destinations coming.

As (relatively young) travel enthusiasts ourselves, we were curious to experience this new form of travel firsthand — so IVY Media took a cruise down the Seine with U by Uniworld in October 2017. According to IVY’s Trips Manager, Isabel Pett, some highlights included dancing to a silent disco in the upper deck nightclub; starting off the morning with a wine and watercolor painting class; and rubbing elbows with social media influencers Pia MuehlenbeckLauren Bullen, and many more.

We wanted to know a bit more about U by Uniworld’s bid to attract a new generation of travelers after the trip, so IVY Magazine interviewed Ellen Bettridge, the CEO and President of U by Uniworld. Bettridge talked about new trends in travel, gave tips to aspiring entrepreneurs, and provided her thoughts on the luxury brand’s plan to fill a gap in the market for young travelers on the rivers.

Tell us about yourself. What was the journey that brought you to U by Uniworld?

I have worked in the travel industry for my entire career. I began my career as many people – particularly women – did in those days: as a travel agent, and it was a tremendous education. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to play strategic roles with some of travel’s best-known brands, including American Express Travel, Azamara Club Cruises, and Silversea Cruises. Before coming to Uniworld, I launched new products for luxury cruise brands Silversea and Azamara, so the opportunity to bring to life a new product for a brand like Uniworld was compelling. This is an incredibly exciting time for the travel industry, especially river cruising.

Why is the company interested in marketing specifically to a new generation of travel enthusiasts?

There is an unmet demand for quality experiences that make discovering new destinations easy and compelling, and river cruising does that. After years of studying young travelers through our sister Contiki brand, we think U is perfectly positioned to appeal to the young professional who is passionate about discovering the world and wants to make travel a part of their life right now.

Why do you think Millennials and Generation X are embracing cruise travel?

There are many reasons why we think this audience loves cruising, including:

  • Location: We dock in the heart of Europe’s most amazing cities – both big and small.
  • Great Value: Our sleek, floating boutique hotels with included food, onboard activities, and immersive excursions are a much better value than a hotel.
  • Convenient: The journey from city to city and country to country is relaxing, beautiful, fun, and convenient. Travel all over, unpack once.
  • It’s Fun: From mixology classes to silent disco, to paint and wine on the deck — life onboard is so much fun that you won’t want to get off. Our goal is to offer enjoyable, relaxing, immersive experiences on the rivers to the next generation of travel lovers.

What differentiates U by Uniworld from other river cruise companies?

Well, to be frank – there isn’t anything else like it on the rivers. We’ve reimagined river cruising for a new audience and it touches every facet of the experience – beginning with design.

Design for U is about style certainly – but also about quality and utility, with technology incorporated throughout. This is a different audience than Uniworld, and our design reflects that. Toni Tollman, the director of design and projects at Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, has crafted a sleek style that offers modernity with a subtle nod to classic 20th-century architecture. The ships are cool, with a black and white motif that begins with a matte black exterior — unlike any other of our ships — that signals what’s to come inside. One big change in the interior design is the way in which we are accommodating the increasing number of solo travelers with wide spaces for mingling and communal tables for meeting.

Sustainability is important to us, so we’ve taken several steps to lessen our footprint on the environment, including going paperless. We’re using WhatsApp and email for internal communication with guests, offering onscreen menus in bar and restaurant, and will offer two apps – a press reader and a My Travel Space online travel manager — that connect our travelers before, during, and after their trips. These apps give them access to all itinerary details and allow them to share social media content. We’ve also chosen bathroom amenities that have the smallest footprint we could find.

U by Uniworld will begin sailings in spring 2018. What are some of the itineraries you are most excited about?

That’s right, U kicks off its season with The A’s first sailing on April 14, which cruises the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers; followed by The B, which cruises the Seine river. Both offer incredible opportunities and we expect the following 8-day itineraries to be extremely popular. We’re currently offering a sale of 20% off if booked by March 31st.

Many IVY Members are CEOs and founders of businesses themselves. Based on your experience, are there any tips you have for them to strategically grow and expand their businesses?

Brett Tollman, TTC’s CEO, inspires and informs everything I believe about leadership. Despite the strength of his company and family legacy, he remains insatiably curious, open to new ideas, and eschews bureaucracy. U by Uniworld was a new idea and a big risk, but he fully and enthusiastically supported our team moving forward to bring this concept to life. That’s leadership.

And so my advice: take risks. Put yourself out there. Don’t be consumed by what others think – that it won’t be perfect, that you’ll disappoint, that you are afraid. Everything worthwhile takes effort, but nothing matters at all if you don’t try. Bet on yourself and get out there. You can do and be more than you believe.

What are some of the big new trends in travel you’re seeing?

We pay close attention to trends. Right now, we see that travelers really want a closer connection to the places they visit and the people that best represent those destinations. And our port experiences illuminate this trend – including our recent partnership with VizEat, which quite literally brings travelers into the heart of a local’s home, the kitchen table.

We also know that for today’s traveler, wellness is key and this goes beyond our gyms. We have bikes on the top deck of every ship and while we have specialized excursions that utilize them, we also encourage guests to take one out for a spin and explore on their own.

What message would you like to send out to IVY Members?

Travel is one of the richest, most provocative and life-changing opportunities one can undertake. I think that is why there is such a natural affinity for the work we do with IVY members. Our mission is the same, because like you, we recognize that the only way to fulfill oneself in this world is to understand your place in it.