Pandaw River Cruises
  Sign up
Luxury small ship river cruises in Asia
To Book Call TOLL FREE 1-877-872-6329
Annual Report 2023

Annual Report 2023


Annual Report from Pandaw Founder, Paul Strachan, April 2023

It was something of surprise to see that we had finished the season with good earnings. We had not anticipated any earnings at all in our year of recovery after Covid when, during the October-March season, we operated eight ships: two in India, three in Laos and Thailand, two between Vietnam and Cambodia, and one on the Red River in North Vietnam.

All these ships had to be extensively refitted and refurbished following two and a half years of lay-up due to Covid. Then as if Covid were not punishment enough, following the 2021 military coup we suspended operations in Myanmar. Myanmar had been an important destination for Pandaw and provided about a quarter of annual revenue. The six ships remaining in Myanmar have been mothballed in the hope that the country will one day be safe for travel. They can be repositioned in the event of increased demand in other countries.

For our other destinations the greatest bar to recovery was the behaviour of the airlines who were slow to reopen routes, had uncertain schedules, and were charging double or even treble what they had pre-Covid. As a result of this many European tour operators were reluctant to promote Asian destinations. Visitor numbers to the region through the season were very low as could be seen in city hotels, resorts and of course on river ships. For India, the decision to no longer offer e visas to UK nationals, India’s main market for tourists, was a huge blow to the sector on the back of the depredations of Covid restrictions.

Pandaw 1
Pandaw 2

Despite these negative regional factors, restart costs and the loss of Myanmar, Pandaw has made a dazzling recovery. This was mainly thanks to the loyalty of its client base. Nearly 50% of bookings came from the Pandaw Members Club, who have all sailed with the company before, in the case of Legacy Members five times. These were mainly direct sales removing the commission element and thus enhancing profitability.

When working on the plan to reopen one year ago, our main concern was one of cost particularly for crew wages, food supplies and fuel. In fact, these costs remain on par with what we were paying pre Covid. We have improved our in-house reporting and finance systems with stricter discipline which may account for a better level of financial control.

We anticipate that next season we will achieve 60% of pre-Covid revenue and the year after return to our annual average. And that is without Myanmar. Already for 2023/24 we are close to target so we feel very positive about our recovery.

On our routes in Laos and Red River occupancy and yields were higher this season than they were pre Covid, reflecting our members preference for smaller ships on remote river routings. On the Classic Mekong route between Saigon and Siem Reap the one larger ship we operated on scheduled cruises (ie. non charter) averaged 50% occupancy. This was said to be far higher than any of our competitors many of which never even operated. Next season we have two larger ships on scheduled Classic Mekong cruises and they are filling well.

Pandaw 3
Pandaw 5

India proved far more challenging with lower occupancy caused by the visa issue and we made a small loss. We also experienced incessant management dramas and the marine services company appointed proved remiss on maintenance. We have now appointed a senior person to head up the India operations, with a proper office in Kolkata, and are investing in hiring more competent ship managers with a team coming over from Myanmar to train the Indians. The main comment from passengers was the disparity between standards offered in India and on Pandaw cruises they had experienced elsewhere. We need to focus there on style and branding issues.

Much of Pandaw's success this season has been predicated by the fact that nearly all our old management team came back after Covid. We opened a smart new office in Saigon for them and new local staff were recruited successfully to customer services and finance. Spencer, 8 years with us, continues to take care of digital; David, over 10 years producing beautiful brochures for us, design; James has enlarged his role to include marketing and product; Aussie Stuart at 10 years with the company, takes care of ship operations; they have been joined by a Catalan, Elena, who handles the hospitality side. Uyen, remains our stalwart financial controller after 5 years with the company.

On the ships, nearly all our crew returned to take up their former duties and the staffing issues that affected so many hotels in all countries was not an issue for us. We were delighted to be able to bring key people over from Myanmar to work in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos including five pursers who have considerable experience in managing Pandaw ships and understanding of our passenger’s needs. Great credit is due to our Thai partner, Khun Pat, who has lifted the Laos experience to something far better than we offered before Covid. All round, as I visited our ships through the season, I could feel far greater energy and focus than before from our teams resulting in higher service levels.

We have used the lull during Covid to follow up with consultant’s recommendations as to our corporate structure and now trade from a UK incorporated company banking in London. We have also streamlined our regional companies in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and believe we now have a more efficient and effective structure.

For the coming season tour operators, keen to return to Asia, are actively re-engaging with us. We are pleased to announce that for the UK Fred Olsen Travel will resume as a General Sales Agent which will cover the retail side of the industry.