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Options for AgentsOctober 12, 2009 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
The M/V Aqua cruises the northern Amazon River in Peru and accommodates 24 guests in grand style
This is a pivotal year for eWaterways, now expanding its reach to travel agents in the North American market. Since May, more than 600 agents have registered to sell its portfolio of small-ship products. The goal is to register 1,500 agents online by year-end.
eWaterways offers travel agents easy access to nontraditional small ships, from private yachts in Greece to affordable river cruises in the Galapagos Islands, Alaska, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean—and on ships that are not necessarily easy to find through other channels.
eWaterways sells more than 1,200 vessels worldwide—everything from luxury yacht charters to Amazon exploration cruises, from river cruising to European barges, Antarctic expedition ships and more.
Travel Agent spoke with Tamara Mallin, eWaterways’ director of sales, North America, about the group’s efforts this year to secure more U.S. agency partners. Founded in the UK in 2008, eWaterways has been operating in North America since early this year. The company has about 30 employees worldwide in such locales as London, Bangkok and Vancouver, its North American base.
Mallin describes eWaterways as “an aggregator,” but notes that the term isn’t always understood. So, she says agents should know that eWaterways essentially “acts” as an online consolidator for small-ship cruising. “We’re absolutely geared to the travel trade and we see at least 80 percent, if not more, of our business coming through the trade.”
Based in Tahiti year round, the luxurious Tia Moana is available for private charters of up to 50 guests
eWaterways pays a minimum commission of 10 percent and typically up to 12 percent on many products. In addition, Mallin says it can even be more for products where net pricing is offered (allowing agents to set their own final price to the client) and when eWaterways negotiates preferred supplier agreements.
While the company sells all the major brands, offering traditional European river cruises and oceangoing small-ship brands like Windstar Cruises, Mallin is realistic and understands that most U.S. agents have direct relationships with many cruise lines, tour operators and other major suppliers.
It’s hardly surprising then that “eclectic,” “exotic” and “experiential” are the best terms that describe many of the most popular eWaterways cruise products. Many agents book yacht charters, off-the-beaten-path voyages and unusual river and coastal cruise products with eWaterways. For example, one “really gorgeous product,” Mallin says, is an old mine-sweeping ship that has been converted into a family cruising vessel.
Mega-yacht charters are highly popular, she says, because clients don’t have to book the entire vessel and pricing is affordable at about $2,700 per person. “So [clients] experience the glamour of mega-yacht cruising, but at a very affordable price,” she adds.
In Asia, eWaterways has unusually romantic and exotic sailings on, for instance, old rice barges and junks converted into cruising vessels. Mallin says three- and four-night River Kwai cruises in Thailand “sell wonderfully.” The firm also offers unique vessels on the Amazon, including the Manatee Amazon Explorer, a paddlewheel vessel.
eWaterways works with companies such as Paradise Cruises, which specializes in exotic trips on Halong Bay in Vietnam.
Getting the Word Out
So how will the firm assist agents in learning more about available cruise options? At presstime, Mallin confirmed that eWaterways had just hired Richard Bromberg, a veteran multiline sales executive, to handle sales representation in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, eastern Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The firm is also in the process of hiring sales representation for the Midwest and West Coast. That should be completed before the holiday season, Mallin says. Future plans include adding sales representation in Texas and Florida.
Agents can also expect an increased trade-show presence and more visibility in public relations from eWaterways.
eWaterways is also increasing its reservations staff in Vancouver. The reservations office remains open from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. Pacific time.
“A lot of our product isn’t [about] live availability” given the nature of the small-ship products, says Mallin, adding that the timing isn’t a problem for most agents on the East Coast. Typically, eWaterways must contact the local ground operators for confirmation of availability on many of the foreign barging and ship charter products. A 48-hour turnaround isn’t unusual.
While eWaterways is a member of USTOA, “we’re not a tour operator,” stresses Mallin. As a result, she says, agents benefit as the company prefers to refer clients to agents, who can handle such options as air, pre- and post-options and other customized programs.
Travel professionals may register on the eWaterways website by clicking on the “Travel Agents” tab on top. The site boasts a sizable database of small ships and cruise itineraries. “Our search functionality on our agent portal is much more refined than on the home page,” Mallin says. The site allows registered agents to track every stage of the reservations process securely and confidentially. Agents may view client reservations and check pricing and the status of bookings. They also have access to product information, special offers, a frequently-asked-questions section, booking reports, agent community forums and blogs. Registered agents also receive a weekly newsletter covering everything from the launch of a new ship to destination features.
“We’re not creating competition or stealing their clients [unlike some suppliers],” Mallin assures agents. She notes that many of the small-ship suppliers featured by eWaterways are not likely to be found on mainstream cruise websites. She believes her firm opens up new sales possibilities for registered agents—cruising options of the unusual, experiential and eclectic kind that most consumers don’t know about.
Three- and four-night River Kwai cruises in Thailand are among the most popular itineraries