New Twists in River Cruising


River Beatrice's high-tech features and hotel-style amenities won acclaim from travel agents for Uniworld


River cruising has always been a predominantly adult experience, with couples, singles and mature ladies boarding riverboats to sail the world’s scenic waterways. Increasingly, though, this is becoming a family affair—although not in the way you might think.

“More and more families are going—like the mother and father who are retired and have sons and daughters in their early 40s,” says Sabine Harris, MCC, owner, Cruise Planners, Tampa. Similarly, Luelle Robinson, an independent affiliate of America’s Vacation Center based in Fresno, CA, says, “I am also seeing a lot of families that want to go together—not the parents with their teenage/young children, but [instead] grown children that want to take their parents to see where their roots are.”

Tapping into ‘Togethering’

Agents say empty nesters in their late forties to early sixties are good prospects, as are their parents. They may want to travel comfortably together as a small adult group—without kids—and spend quality time together. So, with the holidays approaching, it’s a good time to review your database. Do you know any empty nesters? Do they have adult siblings in a similar situation? Do they have elderly parents who enjoy travel?

If so, you might suggest a holiday gift of a 2010 “adult family group” river cruise vacation. Besides paying in dollars rather than euros, clients booking this fall benefit from such deals as two-for-one offers, free air, dollar-off savings and onboard credits.

Guests float comfortably from destination to destination–dining, relaxing and sightseeing from the comfort of their stateroom or on deck as the riverboat sails by castles, cathedrals, historic sites, vineyards and charming villages. When the vessel docks in the heart of great cities, quaint towns and small villages, guests simply walk off the vessel and start exploring, or guided tours are available.

If small children are part of the picture, though, check with individual lines. Most river lines lack kids’ facilities and don’t cater to families with children. Riverboats also may be too staid for many teens.


A cabin aboard Avalon Creativity

A cabin aboard Avalon Creativity allows passengers to view the scenery floating by through floor-to-ceiling windows


Selling the European river cruise experience is truly easy with the right clients, though, believes Carrie Finley-Bajak, president, Cruise Holidays of Mission Viejo, CA. Many of her river cruise clients are first-timers. Certainly, the inclusiveness of the product is attractive as meals and entertainment are included; some lines even include air, gratuities, sightseeing or wine with dinner.

“Knowing that our guests are greeted at the airport and taken care of all along the way gives us peace of mind,” says Finley-Bajak. “Once onboard, everything is taken care of and the tours and enrichment programs are first-rate.”


River cruising allows clients to see some of Europe’s hidden gems, such as Germany’s Rudesheim, a popular stop on Rhine River cruises

Beyond adult family travelers, our agent experts say other good river cruise prospects are ocean cruisers “maturing” in their cruising style and seeking a less frenetic onboard atmosphere. Also, “the thought of seeing more of Europe than just the coast seems to be the big selling point to past cruise clients,” says Timothy Martin, co-owner (with his wife Trish), CruiseOne, Beaverton, OR. Also, look for clients with a passion for art, history, architecture, music and culture.

In terms of hardware, today’s riverboats—both new and refurbished—are often stunning. Finley-Bajak cites Viking River CruisesViking Legend with French balconies, flat-screen TVs and refrigerators. Also, on Avalon WaterwaysAvalon Affinity, “guests love the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors in most staterooms,” she reports.

To assist the trade, river line websites offer online photo slideshows or videos that can assist during client discussions; AMA Waterways has an excellent virtual tour of the Amadante on its website. In addition, “online training is always good, and, of course, it helps if you are signed up for travel agent updates with each individual river cruise line,” says Harris.

As with other products, the agent’s firsthand experience is invaluable. “I can tell my clients what the rooms are like, what the food is like, how the tours are included every day,” says Robinson. “It is so much easier to visualize the client on the river cruise when I have been there myself.”

Martin sees “very consistent follow-up from the river cruise reservation departments.” He says they’re checking to see if the client is considering other products and providing competitive pitches about why their product is superior.

Qualifying the client remains critical. “They [river cruises] are not a tour, they are not a cruise,” Martin emphasizes. “You have to start with the client’s background and experiences and use that to decide how best to position the offering…You might be moving a client from a cruise product to a river cruise product, which takes one form of qualification or a tour customer to a river cruise product—which takes another form of qualification.”

Finley-Bajak’s biggest issue this fall is finding availability. River cruise deals abound but clients must be flexible because space is in high demand. “Trying to coordinate flights to Europe to some of the smaller cities is a challenge,” she notes.

Still, Finley-Bajak projects “2010 is going to be another great year for river cruising.” Robinson, too, sees a soaring wave of interest as “consumers are hearing about river cruising—either from friends who went and loved it, or the articles that are showing up about this new way of vacationing.”

Agents Select Innovations

More than 1,000 CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. agents and agency owners voted recently on what they perceived as the top three river cruise line innovations of 2009. The winners—by number of votes—were:
1st place: Uniworld
Cited were new high-tech features, pool areas and hotel-style amenities on River Beatrice and River Tosca
2nd place: Avalon Waterways
Agents mentioned Avalon’s new, unique themed cruises, including food and wine itineraries.
3rd place: Viking River Cruises
The line was praised for its shorter, more affordable cruise structure, including China and Europe tours.

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