Europe Cruise Season Kickoff: How to Sell River Cruises

Aquavit Lounge on Viking River Cruises' Viking Heimdal.

It's spring, so major European river cruise lines are once again starting to operate voyages along the Danube, Rhine, Moselle, Seine, Rhone/Saone, Dordogne and other continental rivers.

River cruising actually is the fastest growing segment of the cruise industry. It also offers high earnings potential.

How can you effectively sell a river cruise? Travel Agent asked that question of four travel agents who gave us these tips:

It sounds so simple but Mara Hargarther, franchise owner and vacation specialist with Dream Vacations - Hargarther, Thaler & Associates, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, says agents can be a part of the growth by matching their customer base with the product to fit the client’s needs. 

First, she says, it’s imperative to know the product first hand. “If you haven’t experienced a river cruise yet, then make sure that you try at least one,” says Hargarther. “Without the knowledge of a first-hand experience, you will not be able to convey the benefits of river cruising to your clients.”

Second, she also tells fellow agents to know the difference between mass market, premium and luxury river cruising. “There are definitely unique differences in the products offered in these varying segments,” she says.

“Know the differences among these categories in order to be able to match your clients to the product that best meets and then exceeds their expectations," Hargarther advises.

She stresses: "I personally have experienced all three segments of river cruising and that knowledge will help me to grow my river cruise sales proportionately.”

Hargarther also suggests agents segment their database and go to market accordingly. “Meet with your local river cruise business development managers and ask them to assist you with your marketing efforts,” she says, suggesting that agents host a cruise night with their support. 

Finally, she says: “I find it best to work with one company at a time so they do not have to compete against each other.” 

Cookie Carney, an independent contractor with Travel Experts, Charlotte, NC, finds so-called, enthusiastic "pied pipers" who are interested in river cruising. These people tend to tell their friends, family and even people they don't know, and often a group develops.

Carney sold one of these pied pipers an AmaWaterways cruise and now they are on their sixth sailing. From that initial cruise, "several other pied pipers have also spun out from their groups."  

“These were existing clients that wanted to travel with friends,” says Carney. “So I proposed this option and provided the technical support."

Photo by AmaWaterways

She emphasizes that a pied piper can earn some great benefits depending on the group's size. Best of all, "I find river cruising can be almost addictive," for the pied piper and friends, she says. 

We also heard from Rick Amsden, co-owner of Luxury Vacations LLC, an independent agency in the Avoya Travel Network, Marietta, GA. His co-owner, wife Lisa Long, was selected as one of Travel Agent magazine’s 2016 Top 25 All Stars

“I always try to convey to clients the inclusiveness of river cruising and the value that creates for the customer,” stresses Amsden.

“Most of the river cruise lines include excursions, alcohol, and other amenities that make the overall experience easier, and first time river cruisers may not be familiar with these benefits compared to their ocean cruise or other travel experiences," he notes.

Amsden says river lines have really expanded excursions to accommodate a variety of customers. So, he highlights those options and showcases points of interest. That could include outings for active travelers or shore trips for the historically inclined. 

“Another value point to share with customers is that they only unpack once, and for destinations like Europe where travelers want to visit many different cities, river cruising is much more relaxing than [changing] hotels and packing every couple days,” he says.

Photo by Uniworld

Food, too, is always a great enticement, says Wendy Cushing, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Sagamore Beach, MA. She likes to host a river cruise travel night with authentic desserts.

"I am the 'Travel Resource' person for a great over-55 park in Massachusetts, and we just started doing six speakers a year at this place," she says, noting that the last of the year will be a Viking River Cruises presentation. 

“We give them a three-hour party with goodie bags and a presentation for an hour and everyone gets a Viking wine glass and a brochure bag,” says Cushing, who also sweetens the offering by making four different desserts based on recipes from Viking's website. 

“Everyone stays, laughs, asks a lot of questions and I have clipboards with forms for people to write on," she adds. Then the participants can make private appointments to go over their interests, destinations and time frames.

And, there's a small incentive that often leads to a cruise sale with Viking. The next is set for November 29. Proof that it works? “The one in December made me $25,000 in commissions,” she says. 

Look for more river cruise sales tips from these and other river selling agents in the River Cruise Focus of Travel Agent magazine on May 15.