Riviera Travel Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Riviera Travel ship Jane Austen
Riviera Travel's Jane Austen

Riviera Travel, the escorted tour and river cruise specialist, marked its milestone 40th anniversary with a celebration in Paris. France was Riviera’s first destination when the company opened its doors in 1984 and founder Michael Wright took the first-ever customers on a coach and camping tour of southern France.

Today the Burton-based business – which takes its name from the first holiday destination – offers almost 1,000 departures per year for nearly 100,000 guests, covering 65 countries and all seven continents and has become the UK’s largest supplier of escorted tours and river cruises.

The anniversary celebrations were held aboard Riviera’s river ship Jane Austen which was moored on the Seine close to the Eiffel Tower. Dame Irene Hayes, owner of the UK’s largest independent travel agents Hays Travel, cut the birthday cake after a welcome speech by Riviera Travel CEO Phil Hullah.

He told guests that Michael Wright set out to provide educational and entertaining holidays with a high level of customer focus, and ongoing expansion plans included providing tours and cruises for 200,000 guests annually by 2030.

“While we’re incredibly proud of everything we’ve achieved, we’re determined not to rest on our laurels, and have ambitious plans in place to continue growing. Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of guests explore the world, ticking off their bucket lists and ensuring they can enjoy everything Europe and destinations all over the world have to offer. We will continue to visit well-loved locations, as well as branching out to even more places across the globe.”

In 2025 Riviera Travel will add two new ships to its fleet and, in a break with the tradition of naming vessels after UK authors, they will be the first to bear the Riviera name on their bows. The 178-passenger Riviera Radiance will sail on the Danube and the 114-guest Riviera Rose will be based on Portugal’s Douro.

Speaking to Our Man On The Ground, Will Sarson, Riviera’s Head of Product, River and Ocean, said the Douro had become an increasingly popular river in recent years and was attracting both repeat river cruisers and customers who had never been on a river cruise.

“We are putting another ship on the Douro in addition to the two we already have there, so that’s really exciting. It’s a lovely river and you can have a much longer season on the Douro which means more opportunity for people to go there. It can be really warm in mid-March, and you can sail all the way through to the end of November.”

Riviera Radiance
178-passenger Riviera Radiance

Other trends include an increase in themed cruises, with 32 departures covering eight sailings, including food, art, history, music and horticulture, as part of the newly launched 2025 river cruise programme.

Sarson added:

“They have been tailored to focus on guests’ interests and we have seen a lot of interest in these cruises. Again, they appeal to customers who have sailed with us before and want to do something a little bit different, as well as people who hadn’t previously considered a river cruise.”

He said the company was also continuing to focus on solo travellers with its biggest ever solo-specific programme this year with 162 departures, up 20 per cent year-on-year. On these sailings which are exclusively for single travellers all cabins, including suites, are available across the entire ship at no single supplement.

On every other river cruise there are cabins set aside for solos starting with a low single supplement of 25 per cent.

Looking to the future, Sarson said the company was continually considering new ideas. Following the reintroduction of the China land tour programme Riviera is considering the return of river cruises on the Yangtze as is also keeping in mind the possibility of chartering ships on other exotic rivers such as the Ganges.

Concluding the two-day celebration, Riviera Travel CEO Phil Hullah said:

“It’s been wonderful to celebrate 40 years with so many of the people who made our success possible. I’d like to pay tribute to everyone who has supported us over the years, which of course includes our fantastic travel agent partners, to help make us the largest UK-based escorted tour and river cruise operator in the UK and Ireland.

“I also want to pay tribute, both to our team, who I firmly believe are the best in the travel business and also to all of the suppliers and partners whose support over 40 years has been instrumental in helping to build Riviera into the business it is today. We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Author Bio:

Known as the ‘River Cruise Queen’, Jeannine Williamson is an award-winning travel writer, cruise expert and our cruise correspondent, who has clocked up thousands of nautical miles.

Photographs courtesy of Riviera Travel

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