Capitalising on its iconic status, the Strand Hotel will diversified its business into the high-end cruise market next January.
The hotel's sister ship, the Strand Cruise, is still being built in Myanmar with an investment of US$10 million and will make its maiden voyage with pre-launch Christmas and New Year trips on the Ayeyawady before its first trip on January 4, according to general manager of the cruise.
Jerome Seban says the company believes that it will break even in the four to five years.
He sees a high demand from high-end travellers who wish to explore Myanmar culture and historic destinations by its waterways.
"Although we are not the first and the only river cruise, we believe we will offer a unique experience."
The vessel will have 27 cabins with floor to ceiling balconies, a swimming pool, sun deck, spa, beauty salon and wellness centre. The décor will reflect the hotel. There will be a butler and guides on board.
"We want to provide our guests with the same standard that they enjoy in our hotel. We aim to give an authentic experience. We want to show our guests the genuine Myanmar," said Seban.
The three- and four-night trips will travel between Mandalay and Bagan with eight trips per month planned, except in May and June when the ship will go for maintenance.
The company expects over 2,500 guests in the first year with the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and Taiwan seen as the main markets.
The marketing for the new cruises started a year ago.
"We've received good feedback as enquiries have been made only two weeks after our sales started," he said.
Exposure to culture
The cultural dimensions are what the river cruise wants to highlight. In order to let the guests have a memorable experience, the ship will be on the move constantly. “In a four-day tour, guests will be on a bus for only one and a half days," he said.
A lot of work went into the preparatory stages. The company had to survey places that could be used round the year. The stops must be secure at night and every stop must focus on Myanmar's heritage as well as the connection with the lives of the locals.
The Strand will be in direct competition with the existing cruise "Belmond Road to Mandalay", which has been operating since 1996. The ship also cruises along the Ayeyawaddy River, with a capacity to handle 82 guests per trip.