10 Tips to Sell River Cruises

A rendering of one of American Cruise Lines' new fleet of modern U.S. riverboats

River cruising is more intimate, less frenetic and ideal for clients who enjoy socializing


When it comes to selling a river cruise, travel agents say “easy does it” is a great message. “This is a great year for river cruising—not just Europe, but China,” says Linda Jenkins, MCC, Travel Leaders, Fort Wayne, IN, who has already sold five river cruises. “It is such an easy sell for me,” she adds, stressing that selling a river cruise is about selling comfort and ­ease.


If you’ve never sold a river cruise or sold them infrequently, how can you increase your reach? What elements are important to recognize? Travel Agent chatted with several agents from Travel Leaders as well as one river cruise executive for their perspective.

Garner Repeat Business: Jenkins likens a river cruise to a tour product; once you sell one, it’s an easy sell to the same clients for future trips. “In this area [the Midwest], people are really catching on [to the value of a river cruise],” she says.

Stress Location: “Rivers in Europe are like the interstates in the U.S. where towns sprung up around these important means of transportation,” says Karen Malone, travel specialist, Travel Leaders, Woodbury, MN. “Touring clients enjoy river cruising because it’s a more relaxing way to travel Europe, unpacking only once and enjoying all the cities.”

Says Pamela Edwartoski, Travel Leaders, Troy, MI, “These ships [can] visit ports larger ships cannot. You can feel the culture of the country with this type of cruising.”

Showcase Deals: Agents also stress this is the year of the deal. Some lines have announced their 2010 lineups with both special and advance purchase savings. For example, through September 30, clients may save $2,000 per couple or $1,000 per person on select 2010 European cruises from the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection upon full payment. And if clients book by July 31 for a 2010 Viking River Cruises voyage, they’ll get two-for-one pricing; an international air discount of $400 per person; and complimentary wine with dinner.



Uniworld is offering heavy discounts on select 2010 European cruises through September 30




­Spotlight the Inclusiveness: Generally, accommodations, meals, transfers, onboard entertainment and cultural presentations are included in river cruise fares. Edwartoski also reports that some river cruises include beer and wine with dinner. Those that do not may offer a drinks package you can purchase onboard. Some river cruises also are air-inclusive, or feature promotions for free or reduced air.

Some even include shore excursions. “Shore excursions are pricey and their final price could become more than the actual base price of the cruise,” Edwartoski notes.

Identify Prospects: Jenkins says many of her clients are baby boomers who have visited Europe in the past and are seeking a different, easier experience than land touring. Couples are a good audience. Edwartoski says the smaller river vessels appeal to her clients because they typically serve 90 to 120 passengers, have outside cabins and offer upscale cuisine.

And, Jenkins notes, river cruising is always a good option for senior travelers who don’t feel up to a bus tour.

Look for clients who may receive special savings onboard river lines. For example, military or police personnel, firefighters or teachers will receive a 10 percent discount on river cruises from AMA Waterways. Singles savings reign on some 2009 European river cruise itineraries from Tauck. Currently, singles can save $1,000 per cabin on The Blue Danube cruises departing August 7, October 22 and October 29.

Sell Relaxation: Tell river cruisers to travel light, noting there is no need for formal wear on most cruises. “It is important to remind clients that these are intimate and lovely floating boutique hotels, [so] not to expect major spa services and Broadway-type shows,” Jenkins says.

Explain the Cruising Style: Edwartoski says agents should know that riverboats are very small and usually have two types of cabins—standard and suites. People who enjoy meeting and socializing will likely enjoy a river cruise. “Since the passengers are few in number, you really can create some great friendships,” Edwartoski says.

Suggest Pre- and Post-Stays: Clients may arrive in Europe, head for their hotel and then board the ship the next day without ever taking time to see the city sights. Similarly, on the return trip, many clients head right for the airport from the ship. Edwartoski recommends pre- or post-cruise add-ons to her clients because “some cruise itineraries do not spend much time in the pre- and post- ports.”

Showcase Enrichment: “We typically get well-traveled individuals interested in an in-depth cultural experience as opposed to those looking for a ship that’s a destination in and of itself,” says Ana Figueroa, director of business development, AMA Waterways.

Agents say selling river cruises isn’t akin to selling a mass-market ocean cruise. “The focus of most river cruise guests is knowledge and getting to know the culture of the cities they are sailing to,” says Malone.

Understand the Differences: As with ocean cruise lines and tours, not all river operators are cookie-cutter. “River cruise vacations are not interchangeable,” notes Figueroa. “There are many distinctions. It really does require a certain level of knowledge on the part of the agent to be able to convey those distinctions.”