According to industry statistics, there’s been a 14 percent annual increase worldwide in river cruising in the past ten years. But there has been an astounding 50 percent jump in Asia river cruising in the past two. If timing is everything, the partners of Haimark are right on the money. They’re the new kid on the block, bursting on the scene with an ambitious plan to have six riverboats plying the waterways of Asia in the next two years. Shipyards in Ho Chi Minh City, Yangon, and Kolkata are buzzing with activity, building vessels for this young cruise company determined to raise the bar on luxury river travel. By the fall of 2014 Haimark will be sailing the waters of the Mekong and Irrawaddy. The Ganges will soon follow. Though the launch date is a year away, most cruises are already sold out as full ship charters. It certainly looks like smooth sailing ahead for Haimark.
Why Asia? Baby boomers are taking a closer look at their travel bucket list; river cruises are offering higher standards; and Asia is seen as an attractive, exotic destination for those tired of European river cruises.
“We were at the right place, at the right time,” Haimark’s managing partner, Marcus Leskovar told Travel World News.
With pent up demand and growth of the river cruising industry, Haimark saw an opportunity and entered a market ripe for expansion. Based in Breckenridge, Colorado, industry veterans are at its helm—Tom Markwell, managing partner and head of sales and marketing and Marcus Leskovar, managing partner, finance and procurement–both former executives with Pandaw River Cruises. In 2012 they partnered with Giang Hoang Hai, an experienced ground operator in Southeast Asia, to launch the company that blends the three partners’ names.
Haimark now handles land arrangements for Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Avalon Waterways plus more than 4,000 visitors to Southeast Asia through seven regional ground offices under Hai’s direction. They have recently appointed Melbourne-based Damien Van Eyk as director of sales for Australia and New Zealand.
Six boutique ships, all reflecting Haimark’s high standards and elegant design, have been taken from drawing board to shipyard. Three are destined for the Mekong, either 100 percent Haimark-owned or long-term charter agreements. One has already been chartered to Avalon Waterways for three years. The other will be Haimark’s first luxury 34-suite, 68-passenger Mekong Navigator, ready to sail in September, 2014 with all dates already sold out. This is not your cookie-cutter riverboat by any means. The Mekong Navigator reflects French Colonial elegance, a nod to the history of both Vietnam and Cambodia. What sets it apart is not only its style, but its amenities.
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We’re talking European standard luxury like 500-thread-count sheets, a pillow menu, fresh flowers and fruit in the room, and a remarkable 256-square-foot lead-in cabin. The larger suites reach 584 square feet, huge for a river product. All the suite categories (except the Superior Suites) offer balconies. The piece de resistance, the Navigator’s Grande Suite, the highest category, offers floor-to-ceiling glass windows, a private veranda and butler service. Featured onboard is a fitness center and spa, sun deck, library, lounge and dining room. Buffet breakfast and lunch is followed by elegant table service at dinner with complimentary local beer and spirits. A 7-night itinerary runs from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City for $1,999 per person. Pre- and Post-cruise extension programs are offered. Though most of the cruises are sold out charters, space is still available for November and December 2014 departures.
The Mekong Princess is a small ship concept with all the bells and whistles. Its intimate, 12-suite 24-passenger capacity will offer everything the Navigator offers and is directed to niche tour operators. Suites range from 255 square feet to 450 square feet.
“We haven’t given up any amenities because of its size,” noted Markwell. “The size of the ship and its unique itinerary is breathing new life in this area,” he continued. Its 4-night Vietnam/3-night Cambodia itinerary is totally different touring from anything currently available. Because of its size, The Mekong Princess, launching in January 2015, can navigate farther up smaller tributaries to areas of the river never before explored on a riverboat. It has 36 departures (no departures May-August), accepting FIT bookings. The Princess is priced at 20% more than the Navigator.
The 28-suite 56-guest Irrawaddy Explorer has a British Colonial air, reflecting the days of colonial rule in Myanmar. It will deploy on 9-night itineraries beginning September 2014. Covering up to 150 miles a day, this luxurious floating hotel will eliminate the hassles of this country’s weak infrastructure and lack of upscale accommodations. Its luxury features mirror Haimark’s other ships. A second ship will be built for a large US tour operator for late 2015. Prices start at $2,899 per person.
The Ganges Voyager is a 28-suite 56-passenger ship scheduled to sail India’s holy river in West Bengal in January 2015. The first luxury vessel of its kind in India, the Voyager‘s ambiance reflects the grandeur of India’s British Colonial era. The Maharaja Suite, the most luxurious onboard, offers over 400 square feet of cruising elegance with floor to ceiling doors opening to a balcony, daily butler service and in-room dining. A sign of growing demand for river cruising in India, 22 departures on the Ganges were sold out in 90 days. Vantage Deluxe WorldTravel, APT, Cruiseco and Travel Indochina have all procured charters. The two remaining dates will be sold as FIT and FAMS. Prices begin at $2,799 per person with pre- and post-cruise extensions available. The Ganges Voyager II, scheduled for launch in September 2015, is now booking on a charter basis only.
“Contracting to do all land arrangements for Uniworld and Avalon was the foundation that gave us legs before we started running,” Tom Markwell explained to Travel World News. Today Haimark connects all the pieces of the puzzle to make a cruise ship possible. “We’re filling an interesting niche,” Markwell added.
Their third-party product is the fastest and easiest way for a tour operator to grow a destination and diversify their brand. “The key is, we’re able to deliver a product at a price point that’s profitable,” Markwell continued. “Our price allows mainline companies to sell and make money.”
Scenic Tours has chartered Mekong and Irrawaddy cruises and is in talks to contract Ganges cruises as well. In a sign of confidence, they recently printed up 40,000 60-page catalogs on the Mekong and Burma.
“It’s a turn-key solution,” commented Haimark partner, Marcus Leskovar. “Everything is included in a charter—excursions, food, everything! What’s most important is our ability to partner with any companies to customize product to sell under their own umbrella.”
According to Leskovar, large companies want to keep their specific brands and Haimark provides the third-party arrangement. “It’s an A-Z seamless third-party solution in Asia,” added Leskovar. We give them the product and manage their risks.”
Haimark has been closely aligned with the travel-agent community realizing that travelers don’t book river cruises independently. “We offer up to 30 percent commissions on groups for our Mekong product,” noted Markwell, “though we have a sliding scale from 10-30 percent depending on volume.”
Myanmar and India cruises have a sliding scale from 10-20 percent. Fam trips are planned for 2015. Haimark products can be booked through Tom Harper Journeys, Lueftner Cruises, Travel Indochina, Scenic Tours, Vantage Deluxe World Travel and others tour operators.
This just in! For those clients who have always wanted to cruise the Amazon but demand luxury, Haimark has signed a contract to build beyond the rivers of Asia. A yet un-named luxury vessel will ply the waters of the Peruvian Amazon, operating 6-night round trip sailings from Iquitos. Haimark will be selling on a charter-only basis through the end of 2013.
Air India, www.airindia.com; Haimark Travel, 800-798-4223, www.haimarktravel.com; Tom Harper Journeys, 855-GO-HARPER, www.tomharper.com; Scenic Tours, 855-517-1200, www.us.scenictours.com; Vantage Deluxe World Travel, 888-514-1845, www.vantagetravel.com