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Selling River Cruises

March 17, 2011 By: Susan Young Travel Agent




River Cruises
Many river cruises have added onboard activities to attract the family market.



Sailing Interior Waterways

Here’s A Sampling of News, deals and unique voyages for 2011:  Avalon Waterways is expanding its themed vacations to include a new Art & Impressionist cruise on Avalon Creativity this November. It comes with onboard art lectures as well as visits to ParisMusée d’Orsay with a local expert, Claude Monet’s Giverny home, the Musée des Impressionnismes, Rouen’s cathedral, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts André Malraux in Le Havre.

Look for big fleet enhancements at Viking River Cruises through 2013. As part of an ambitious $250 million fleet development program, the new Viking Prestige will premiere in Europe this year while the new Viking Emerald will debut in China, replacing the Viking Century Sun. Additional European vessels will follow in 2012 and 2013. Other vessels are being renovated.

Voyages to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey operates robust oceangoing itineraries, but it’s also small enough to traverse a renowned inland waterway—the four-mile-long Corinth Canal in Greece. As a shortcut between the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf, this canal was completed in the late 1880s. A September 20 cruise between Venice and Athens transits the Corinth Canal on September 30.

This year, AMA Waterways will introduce the new 161-passenger AMA Verde in Europe, the newly redesigned 212-passenger AMA Katarina on the Volga-Baltic Waterway in Russia and the new 124-passenger AMA Lotus on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia.


Here are agent-tested responses to clients’ top objections.

With the river cruise industry unveiling a slew of new ships, creative itineraries and onboard product developments, agents have many new vacation options to sell. Yet, even after carefully qualifying clients for a river cruise product, agents say some consumers still tell them, “Oh, I’d never take a river cruise because…”

Unfortunately, many of those “I won’t sail” reasons are based on inaccurate information and misperceptions. So, Travel Agent asked industry experts for the four most common objections of clients to booking a river cruise and how agents can overcome those.

Objection #1: “… it’s only for older people.”

Yes, river cruising does attract many seniors, but “I think the younger generation is starting to understand that river cruising is not just for ‘older people’,” says Sabine Harris, owner, Cruise
. But she admits that the change in thinking isn’t shared by all clients.

If consumers desire to mingle with a broad mix of guests on a river cruise, it may be best to consider a weeklong voyage, rather than a 14-, 21- or even longer Grand Tour itinerary. Longer cruises tend to attract more seniors, who, not surprisingly, have plenty of time to travel. In contrast, working professionals typically gravitate toward shorter voyages. Many seven-night cruises have a diverse mix of guests. At times, some lines may even offer voyages for less than a week—such as a five-night cruise—to entice new, and often younger, guests onboard.

Another tip? Tell clients to think of their river cruise vessel as a floating hotel, which provides easy transport to where they want to go to. Passengers enjoy good wine and cuisine onboard, never have to pack and unpack, and then easily step off the ship and take the line’s shore tours or explore on their own. And because river vessels dock in the heart of downtown areas or near quaint villages, this type of voyage encourages independent exploration.

Unlike many ocean cruise itineraries which typically sail at night, most river cruise vessels overnight in ports. So it’s easy to go ashore, have dinner, head for a lounge, club or musical event venue, and mingle with locals of the same age. 

While couples remain a huge market for river cruise suppliers, a few suppliers have certain products and dates they sell as “family cruises.” Don’t expect to find kids’ clubs, though, and advise clients to bring toys and video diversions for children. But families will meet and interact with other families.

For example, in 2011, Tauck Bridges’ Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure on Swiss Jewel takes families to sites in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. Kids of all ages head out for a scavenger hunt in Bratislava, Slovakia; soar over Vienna on the Riesenrad, a giant Ferris wheel; learn how to make strudel onboard; and bike along the Danube. 

Finally, it never hurts to remind clients that age doesn’t always equate to mindset. Older Americans today are more active, more vibrant and more soft adventure- and fitness-focused than their parents and grandparents.

Objection #2: “… I don’t want a cramped cabin or to share a bath.”

“The top objection our agents hear is the stereotype that river cruising options include smaller cabins and an older clientele,” says Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc..

However, Wall has an interesting perspective—that these same objections aren’t so different from ones heard a decade or more ago from ocean cruise passengers. “It is important to understand that many prospective river cruisers are experienced ocean cruisers who want to try something new,” he says.



Avalon Panorama
Avalon Panorama suites are comparable to those of any large cruise ship.


Today’s river cruise ships catering to North Americans come with hotel-style beds and private baths. The newest ships have fairly spacious cabins and such features as flat-screen TVs, French doors or even private balconies. Refurbished ships can be quite grand with luxurious bedding, fine linens and upscale bath amenities and dining options. Some cabins and suites even have butler service.

To show just how far river cruise vessels have come, consider Uniworld’s new Antoinette, which begins sailing this month. Staterooms and suites on La Princesse deck have full, open-air balconies that convert to enclosed conservatories. Staterooms on La Duchesse deck have French balconies with floor-to-ceiling windows that can be raised or lowered with the touch of a button.

In addition, all of Antoinette’s staterooms have an LCD info-entertainment center, including movies-on-demand, music, news, sports and hotel services.

Objection #3: “… it’s a small ship and there’s nothing to do.”

River vessels usually sail close to land, something most ocean ships don’t do, except when docking. Certainly, floating by stunning scenery is important to many river cruisers. But what if clients say, “The heck with the scenery, what else is there to do onboard?” 

“River cruising is becoming more and more popular since there are so many new river boats coming out with all the amenities you could think of,” says Harris. Wall says he’s noticed that river operators are now introducing new and improved products that are more aligned with what consumers have come to expect from ocean cruise suppliers.

Obviously, if clients want Oasis of the Seas-type features and full production shows, no river cruise product likely will suffice. But agents certainly have a growing portfolio of onboard options to discuss with potential river cruise clients.

Wall cites the addition of balcony staterooms, Wi-Fi, more flexibility in dining options, including times for dining, and, in some cases, the addition of [or improvement to] spa facilities. “This is helping drive increased river bookings and sales,” he says.

Uniworld’s new Antoinette has the first movie theater on a river cruise as well as a heated swimming pool with surround sound. Agents may advise clients to take a look at a video showcasing the upscale accommodations and public areas on Avalon Waterways’ new all-suite vessel Avalon Panorama, which launches this spring.

As for ship size, Margie Dolgin, president, Coast to Coast Travel, Las Vegas, reports the biggest objection of her clients is that “the ship is much smaller.” She overcomes that by talking about other perks—“that you spend more time visiting the cities on shore, usually wine is included with your meals and even shore excursions and tips” may be included in the cruise fare. 

While a river vessel is definitely smaller, it’s not crowded. Instead of being with a cast of thousands on many ocean ships, clients will typically sail with only 50 to 150 others on a river vessel. Dolgin tells her clients: “Do you want to be on a cruise ship that is cozy and where you get to know the people aboard? What fun that is!”

And, getting off a river boat to explore a destination is a breeze. There are no tenders, no huge piers and no lines.

Objection #4: “…it’s too expensive.”

Harris acknowledges that many of her clients still view river cruising as expensive. Yes, it’s true that clients typically won’t find a $599 per person bargain for a weeklong river cruise as they might for a mass-market ocean line.

But then again, they won’t pay for many extra fees onboard and ashore either, which is common for ocean lines offering a low lead-in price. In contrast, river lines may include transfers, wine with dinner, gratuities, taxes, shore trips and even air at times. These add-ons vary by line, though, so know the products. For example, Pandaw River Cruises, which operates cruises on Asian rivers, includes almost everything in its FIT fares—from gratuities to shore trips, wine with dinner, onboard programs, and more. “I have to remind my clients that river cruising is a fabulous way to see places that a large ship cannot get into [and that voyages are more inclusive],” says Harris

One of the selling points of a river cruise is that the vessels sail close to land.


“It helps that just like an [ocean] cruise, all meals are included,” she notes. Other agents say they find it helpful to chart out the strong “value proposition”—creating a chart that compares a mass-market ocean cruise with a river cruise. Show what’s included and what’s not.

In addition, “be informed,” stresses Wall. “If you aren’t familiar with river cruising, you won’t be as successful in trying to sell the experience—it’s critical for agents to get out there and experience the product, because it really is a completely different vacation style.” He says that a couple of years ago, his organization took some top producers on a river cruise. Many had no idea what the experience was about.

“They quickly became river-cruising evangelists and top river cruise producers,” says Wall. He also urges agents to effectively market river cruise products and not overlook the profitability potential. Because river fares are highly inclusive, agents make commission on many more elements than the standard mass-market ocean cruise.

The number-one thing to remember is not to look at client objections as problems, but rather as opportunities to educate and inform them. “River cruising is a phenomenal opportunity [for agents] to be profitable while educating clients on something new and unforgettable,” says Wall. “Take advantage of the opportunity at hand.”

What do you think of this $type?


About the Author

Susan Young
A veteran of 100-plus cruises, Susan J. Young, is senior contributing editor for cruises – covering ocean, river and niche cruises for Travel Agent and

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By Susan Young | March 17, 2011
The river cruises have evolved far beyond what any clients’ grouses would have us believe.