UnCruise's new strategy: Double down on what sells best

Andrea Zelinski

UnCruise Adventures’ owner and CEO
Dan Blanchard said he and his team were always focused on expansion. But since
the pandemic, he has stepped away from that mindset and is focusing the line’s
resources on its most profitable regions and sailings. 

That also means pulling back on
cruises that produce smaller margins.  

“What we’re doing now is we’re
actually saying, ‘Okay, we’ve been at this [itinerary] for five years and it’s
marginal. Why are we doing it?’” he said. “We’re focusing on where we can be
really profitable.” 

UnCruise operates eight ships
carrying from 22 to 90 passengers (and charters one vessel), each offering sustainable
adventure itineraries in Alaska, the Galapagos, Mexico, the Caribbean and
Central America. 

For example, the line repositioned a
ship from Hawaii to Alaska last year. It still operates in Hawaii, Blanchard
said, but it will no longer stay there in the summer because it can produce
greater profits in Alaska. 

He said he also noticed his Mexico
sailings do well in Baja California, which is easy for Americans to get to.
Correspondingly, he’s looking to consolidate more of the line’s itineraries in
Mexico in 2025.

These kinds of pivot are a direct
result from the pandemic, although the brand weathered it better than most. Blanchard
said the line returned to profitability in 2021, one of the few cruise
companies to do so.

That profitability was possible due
to a combination of decisions, he said: laying off all but eight of its
430-member team; paying crew to wait at vaccination centers early in 2021 in
hopes of scoring early doses; moving ships into freshwater storage in Seattle
where they would be less expensive to maintain; and shifting departures from
Washington state to Alaska to work around local sailing restrictions. 

Most of the 2021 season sailed full,
Blanchard said. Not only did UnCruise notch that 2021 profit, but it did so in
2022, and Blanchard said he expects that to continue in 2023 after a strong Wave
season. Even with that success, he said it will take UnCruise four years to
make up for the profits it lost in 2020.

  • Related report: A small-ship expert’s take on what makes ‘microcruising’ so appealing

But his business focus isn’t the only
thing that’s changed. Blanchard said the line used to end a year up to 60%
filled for the upcoming Alaska season. Now, bookings are much closer in, coming
in like a flood in March, he said. However, Blanchard said he sees trends that
show 2024 beginning to show a return to historical booking patterns. 

UnCruise isn’t the only line line seeing
cruise booking patterns all over the place. “It’s not just us as a company,”
said Blanchard. “It’s the way the market has changed as well that we have to be
cognizant of.”

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