Transcend Cruises has already sold $20 million of charter product ahead of its 2024 launch, said Matthew Shollar, CEO and co-founder.
The company is building two highly-customized riverboats for debut in Europe that are solely targeted at the charter market.
With a background in full-ship charters, Shollar said he had identified an opening in the market to essentially customize a ship for full-ship charters for groups, alumni associations, corporate clients and more.
“The physical hardware of the ships (in the market) doesn’t optimize itself (for charters),” he said. “The process for chartering is not optimal, taking retail departures out of inventory, and the software is not that flexible to be customized for the groups.”
The company’s two newbuilds will feature convertible staterooms, meaning 60 rooms or 30 double rooms (or a mix), depending on client specification. That means the ships are also smaller, capacity-wise than most of the European riverboat fleet which hold about 200 guests. There’s also a wellness area which is absent for most riverboats.
“This has opened up spaces for group locations,” he said, noting five spaces on each ship the entire group can meet and 10 additional spaces for breakout groups. Customized lighting and screens can be tailored to the client. In addition are storage areas for materials, an office for the charter client and even a separate reception desk if a group needs one.
“We’re not in the FIT business, we have no retail pricing, and we will never re-market to the guests onboard as we have nothing to sell them,” Shollar said. “We are 100 percent focused on the full-ship charter market.”
The company plans to operate a season similar to the mainstream European riverboat brands, going from March through New Years. If available, clients can select specific dates with a three-night minimum. Itineraries, the onboard product and destination experiences are fully customizable. Clients can also plan their own shore programs without penalty.
“We will have a customization team that will cover all the different elements for a flat fee. No mark ups,” Shollar said.
Shollar said the booking window for charters is between 12 and 36 months. With a normal shipbuilding cycle of 14 months, it’s possible the company is able to grow organically by selling inventory and then ordering more capacity.
The ships are also expected to be shallower, saving about 10 centimeters on draft, which could come in handy with water level issues. Battery packs will be used for peak shaving and for close-in maneuvering.