Full Speed Ahead on River Cruise Sales: Top Tips From Drew Daly

To kick off the first river cruise newsletter of 2014, Travel Agent asked Drew Daly, vice president of sales performance, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., for his ideas about selling river cruises, how to find the best clients and how to tap into opportunities for river sales in the new year.

RELATED: Top Five Factors to Watch for Cruise Sales in 2014 

Drew Daly, vice president of sales performance, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., cruising on the Rhine
Drew Daly, vice president of sales performance, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., cruising on the Rhine

Top Tips for Selling River Cruises

A huge fan of river cruising, Daly tells his group's agents that proactive outreach campaigns are effective in building sales. He offers these tips to help agents increase river cruise revenue.

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Book yourself on a river cruise: “Once you experience the product firsthand you will completely understand why you should be selling more of it,” Daly stresses. “You’ll also better understand which of your customers would be ideal for the experience.”

Proactively set up agency meetings with local BDMs for river lines: Focus on a few key river cruise suppliers. Ask the local business development managers to meet with you. Together, set up a plan for each individual brand. “Having a specific plan will help ensure success,” Daly believes.

RELATED: Heading into Year Two: Marilyn Conroy Talks about A-ROSA

Educate your existing customers about river cruise benefits: “Use pictures, write a newsletter and post a video outlining what your customer can expect to experience,” Daly says. In other words, don’t just talk routes and ship hardware - paint an enticing visual picture of the experience.

Pool area of Uniworld's Antoinette // Photo by Susan J. Young
Pool area of Uniworld's Antoinette // Photo by Susan J. Young

Buy online keywords: Make sure your Web site is rich in river cruise content. Then buy “keywords” online to help drive customers and traffic to your Web site.

Send out targeted direct mail: Review your existing database and do a targeted direct mail campaign to customers who would be best suited for the river cruise experience.

Include past ocean cruise customers but expand your approach to include luxury clients, land-based resort vacationers and previous Europe customers. Offer a consumer promotion towards their booking.

RELATED: 25 Top Tips Help Agents Sell More River Cruises 

Lounge on Viking River Cruises' Viking Aegir // Photo by Susan J. Young
Lounge on Viking River Cruises' Viking Aegir // Photo by Susan J. Young

Top Tips for Finding River Cruise Clients

Partner with a local wine, wine store, book store or restaurant: Plan an on-site event at their location. During the event, show a video about river cruising. Discuss the enriching cultural experiences. Promote the presentation to the local customers of the business. Invite your own customers to attend.

Host your own cruise event at your home or office: “I strongly recommend playing a video of the river cruise experience,” says Daly, noting that “people respond tremendously to the visual and they are more likely to take action and book after seeing a video.” Invite the supplier’s local Business Development Manager to do a presentation. Serve refreshments and snacks.

Plan a virtual cruise night: Not everyone wants or has the time to come to an event. At times, consumers might be interested in the potential for learning more, but just can't get away. So take the show to them.

Utilize advancements in technology and host a WebEx Virtual Cruise night. Invite the local river supplier to present. Provide testimonials and give an overview of the benefits of river cruising.

For each of the previous three ideas, Daly stresses it’s highly advantageous to offer a consumer promotion to entice consumers to book at each event.

Partner with a local celebrity, chef, writer or artist:  A local celebrity has the draw to do a “come river cruising with me” program. Depending on the celebrity’s field of expertise, you can plan special inclusions for your cruise -- such as a dedicated learning experience, culinary tasting, lecture or entertainment.

Send messages to the celebrity’s database -- most of these people probably aren’t on your current client list so you’re already broadening your reach for future sales. Create a custom Web site for the program.

Exploring an ancient city in Mainz, Germany. // Photo by Susan J. Young
Exploring an ancient city in Mainz, Germany. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Focus your outreach: Seek out specific groups that are most apt to be interested in river cruising and what it delivers as a vacation experience. These include teachers, professors, church groups, alumni associations, families, high school and college reunion groups.

Another targeted approach is to talk to the history department of a local university. Work with the faculty to put together a trip that might possibly count for college credit. River cruises can take students of history to the ancient temples of Angkor in Cambodia or to Roman sites in France and Italy.

In the U.S., students might explore the heritage of Lewis and Clark in America’s Pacific Northwest or search for Civil War history along the Mississippi River at Vicksburg and elsewhere in the South.

AmaWaterways' AmaCerto, docked at Durnstein, Austria with bikes for guest use. // Photo by Susan J. Young
AmaWaterways' AmaCerto, docked at Durnstein, Austria with bikes for guest use. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Tapping into New Opportunities

In 2014, river cruise growth abounds, Daly says. So why not grow your agency’s footprint in tandem with that growth? Many new and established lines are seeking more agents to sell their products.

RELATED: Tom Russell Talks Plans for New World Quest Cruises 

Moving forward, Daly sees great opportunities for agents to tap into new trends including multi-generational travel onboard river vessels. That might include several adult children and their spouses traveling with their siblings or parents, for example.

Or, it might extend to families with young children booking on designated family sailings offered by some river lines.

Daly urges agents to consider seeking out and promoting to younger clients (mid 40s); many lines have “active” shore options like bicycling or hiking.

Whatever you do, though, what’s most important? “In the end, agents need to take action and invest the time, energy and effort into their business,” Daly emphasizes. “Having a plan and an idea is not enough.”

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