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Start-up Transcend emerges as charter-only river cruise company

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Light-filled public spaces are designed for groups, Here, the restaurant
Transcend Cruises is breaking out as the only B2B river cruise company dedicated to the charter market with customized vessels and itineraries and a transparent flat pricing plan.

It was announced today at Seatrade Cruise Global by CEO Matthew Shollar, who leads a team of cruise industry veterans.

Exclusively for groups

'Transcend recasts proven, popular European river cruises to exclusively serve private groups, meetings and events — our only focus,' said Shollar, a company co-founder who has two decades of luxury travel sales, marketing and cruise charter experience, including as CEO/founder of Chosen Voyage.

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Co-founder and CEO Matthew Shollar

The lack of a customized charter product, coupled with strong demand for smaller, experiential group travel that intensified during the pandemic, convinced Shollar and his team that  'the market opportunities are immense.' Besides Shollar, Transcend has a seasoned team — stay tuned. The advisory board includes Jo Kling, co-founder of Landry & Kling Cruise Events.

Some 10% to 14% of river cruise business currently consists of charters, however Transcend sees the market potential as much, much bigger.

'We are introducing a new category to the industry with wellness-enabled, luxurious river cruising venues, providing unmatched support to our clients, all while expanding the market to audiences that typically have only considered hotels and resorts,' Shollar said.

Dozen vessels

Transcend's newly built vessels will cater to corporate meeting and incentive planners, tour operators, affinity/alumni groups, private family groups, lifestyle brands, third-party agencies and other companies marketing trips under their own brand. The first is to enter service in April 2024 on the Rhine before switching to the Danube in June.

Shollar said 500 days are already booked — mainly by MICE clients — taking a good chunk of inventory in 2024 and into 2025. The business is globally sourced. 

At least 12 vessels with cutting-edge sustainability features are planned over the first six years. 

Flexible space

While they'll measure the European-standard 135 meters, they'll carry 30% to 50% fewer passengers than current lines. Up to 120 cruisers can be accommodated in oversized staterooms, all with French balconies, or up to 60 guests in two-room, two-bath suites. The number of rooms or suites will be customized for the charterer, which can also determine the level of service — from upper premium to luxury.

The light-filled public spaces are designed for groups, with five venues that accommodate all travelers, as well as intimate settings for events, dining, presentations and breakouts. The reception area will be digitally customized to the group, and the charterer will have a presence there, as well as dedicated staff rooms and storage space.

Massive wellness area

There also will be a 2,600-square-foot indoor/outdoor fitness, spa and guest wellness facility — the largest on the rivers.

'This is not just a new kind of ship. We are bringing an entirely new way of doing business,' Shollar said. 'Our business practices and process puts [the charter client] in control. This is a true revolutionary way of being in the river cruise business.'

Transcend Cruises also revolutionizes the pricing model for groups with a new sales approach that provides flat, clearly defined pricing with no blackout dates or retail booking surge pricing risks.

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Den Breejen Shipyard will build the vessels

Tillberg Design of Sweden, Den Breejen, River Advice

Tillberg Design of Sweden will be creating its first river cruise designs, and Den Breejen Shipyard in the Netherlands will build the vessels. Transcend's operating partner is United Rivers (River Advice).

The vessels will sail the highest-demand European waterways, including the Rhine, Danube and Moselle.

Bespoke itineraries

Charterers can build bespoke sailings around their needs, including round-trip itineraries and variable durations, and visit less touristed ports if desired, giving them significantly more flexibility than retail-focused offerings. For example, a charterer might request a six-night round-trip cruise from Frankfurt, a major air hub, something that doesn't exist currently. There is a three-night minimum duration. To fill occasional gaps between charters, Transcend vessels will be available to companies for one- or two-night dockside meetings.

Customizing itineraries is complex — Shollar compared it to a Tetris puzzle — but AI software is being built out to facilitate planning.

According to Shollar, Transcend doesn't compete with existing cruise lines because it's going for different markets; he thinks the company will expand awareness of river cruising and bring new customers to all lines. Moreover, the company won't compete with the charterer for their clients, which happens when travelers get into a line's database and, inevitably, are marketed to directly.

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