It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride since A-ROSA’s new North American dedicated river voyages opened for booking 10 months ago. Start-up “timing” - with reservations opening in January 2013, just months from the season's start - proved a challenge, as did a lack of name recognition by American consumers.
The good news is that consumers who have sailed on the product like it, based on the line's guest feedback. From one trade perspective, “I thought it was an excellent product,” said Sharon Turnau, president, Landmark Travel, Fort Lauderdale, FL, who sailed with a small group in April.
Turnau, an experienced river cruiser, said A-ROSA's product stacked up well with that of other lines on which she’s sailed. She also liked the inclusive nature of the A-ROSA product.
One start-up season plus for consumers? “We do have a superb product, but because we’re the new guys on the block, we had to price it accordingly,” said Marilyn Conroy, executive vice president of sales and marketing, David Morris International, the luxury group that's marketing and selling the product in the U.S.
For Christmas 2013, the line still has availability. Cruise fares start at $1,499 per person double, commissionable at 20 percent, for the December 21 or December 28 roundtrip sailings from Vienna.
Entering Season Two
As A-ROSA begins its second year, Conroy emphasized that her firm now is giving river cruisers more time to book "next year’s cruise." She said a longer booking window is preferred, particularly for conservative clients traveling internationally.
Reservations for 2014 bookings began in September. In 2014, the line plans 16 departures on the Rhine, Danube and Rhone/Saone.
The line also has a new ship. Undertaking its maiden voyage on April 10, 2014, the A-ROSA Flora will sail new tulip-time cruises along the Rhine River.
Moving forward, the line just needs to focus on greater marketplace exposure, name recognition and adding more agencies to sell the product.
Considered highly trade-friendly, Conroy and David Morris, the firm’s president, are cruise industry veterans who previously worked together in sales and marketing at Crystal Cruises and Silversea Cruises.
But “while agents trusted David Morris International,” Conroy said, she acknowledged that “many didn’t know what A-ROSA was.”
In the past, A-ROSA targeted only the European market. It still has voyages serving those guests. So Conroy’s challenge is to continue to get the word out about David Morris’ new North American product on A-ROSA and what it offers.
Conroy expects 2014 promotions to include continued use of agency e-blasts and lots of consumer e-mails. And then “we’ll put a special interest person on every single departure, where it will be a celebrity chef or a guest lecturer. So every sailing will have a special hook, largely focused on food and wine.”
Destination in Avignon
Highly Competitive Marketplace
The original plan for the first season and beyond was to dedicate the A-ROSA vessels to North American clients. But Conroy said her firm added some European guests onboard when needed to fill the ships.
While that wasn’t the plan, “I thought it was nice,” Conroy said. “It actually added a nice [cultural] dimension to it.”
Still, she said the goal is to get to a point where the David Morris-sold voyages are strictly North Americans: “Perhaps we’ll still have a few Europeans on board in 2014, but we want to make it predominantly North American.”
European river cruising is a hot ticket with American consumers, but there are many players in the marketplace, most with deep pockets and strong brand recognition. Viking River Cruises is well-known to consumers through its national television advertising. It’s launching 14 new ships on European rivers next year.
Competitor AmaWaterways’ new AmaPrima has been voted the world’s top new river vessel by CruiseCritic.com. AmaWaterways is also is launching more new ships as are Avalon Waterways, Uniworld, Tauck, Scenic River Cruises and others.
In addition, another new line, Emerald Waterways, will begin sailing European rivers in 2014.
Dining room on Silva
A Foodie’s Delight
So how will A-ROSA more effectively compete in a crowded marketplace? “We’ve learned that one of the areas that sets A-ROSA apart is our cuisine,” said Conroy. “It’s truly a foodie’s cruise.”
Turnhill agreed that the cuisine onboard A-ROSA was very good: “I really felt the food was the best I’ve had on any river boat.”
During breakfast and lunch, guests enjoy buffets with cooking stations. Nightly, the line offers what Conroy describes as “a fine five-course wine pairing dinner every evening.” During 2014, A-ROSA will also offer a bit more diversity, though.
One or two themed nights will be added at dinner, such as when the ship is sailing in Germany. “We’ll also have more choices on the menu,” Conroy said.
Some guests who spend a full day ashore and are tired also may not want a five-course meal every night, even if they love gourmet dining, she noted: "We’ll still offer the five-course foodies menu nightly, but we’ll always have something else available as well."
What else will be new in 2014? “Our excursions have been well-received but we want to expand on that for 2014 to provide guests with even more alternatives,” she said. “We’re sticking to the concept of not just traditional shore excursions, but excursions tailored to more lively activities such as kayaking, biking and hiking.”
A-ROSA’s voyages for North Americans carry 15 high-quality bicycles onboard for guests to use on a complimentary basis. “That’s been so well received,” Conroy noted, and the bikes will be back for 2014.
As for the itineraries, “we’ve had a lot of requests for early May type departures to see the tulips," said Conroy. So it added those. Besides Rhine River voyages, A-ROSA’s voyages also operate on the Danube and Rhone/Saone.
One of Conroy’s favorite itineraries is the line’s round-trip Lyon itinerary, which has strong foodie appeal. A-ROSA takes guests for a private luncheon at Paul Bocuse’s restaurant in Lyon. Foodie guests might fly to Paris, stay a few days to enjoy the city sights, then hop on the TGV train to Lyon and board the ship.
Cabin on Silva
Voyages on Three Ships
A-ROSA's 2014 departures for Americans and Canadians will be on three ships – Flora, Silva and Stella. Both Flora and Silva have full balcony cabins.
Standard accommodations are typically 156 square feet, but they’re extremely well-appointed, according to Conroy: “They’re not stuffy. They’re light, bright and contemporary. We’re trying to appeal to a hip boutique type of client.”
"Cabins on this particular line are a bit smaller than those on [another line] but very well thought out,” Turnau said. “We also felt as though we had more storage space on A-ROSA than on some of the other river cruises." In fact, she said A-ROSA's storage was even more robust than within the suites on some other lines.
If agents are seeking suite accommodations for clients, Flora has 12 suites among its accommodations, while Silva has six suites. Junior suites typically are 216 square feet while French balcony suites are 226 square feet.
One trend A-ROSA has noticed this year is the desire for families without small children to take cruises together – either parents and their adult children or parents and teens. Conroy noted that Flora’s two 198-square-foot family balcony cabins are designed to accommodate four people.
In addition, A-ROSA doesn’t charge any single supplement on category S and A cabins, while a French Balcony Cabin, representing 70 percent of all accommodations, carries a 20 percent single supplement. “That’s has been very well-received,” said Conroy.
For any agent that makes a booking and deposit on or before Dec. 31 for any 2014 A-ROSA sailings, commission will be 20 percent and fares will be protected from changes. After that date, the commission will be 17 percent and the line may consider removing the fare protection.
A-ROSA is making an earlier - and thus stronger - start for 2014. As it moves into its second season of voyages, Conroy hopes more agents will consider A-ROSA for their foodie clients in 2014.