Look for Scenic to begin selling its tour product in the U.S. via travel agents, beginning in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to Joni Rein, vice president - Scenic USA.
Rein says 99.9 percent of U.S. agents don’t sell the company’s tour product, simply because it's not been either promoted or supported for the trade in the U.S. market, but that's about to change.
Growing the Business
Scenic, owned and operated by an Australian company, has had a U.S. headquarters office in Boston for three years. It's adding staff there, and working to “thoughtfully grow the business,” emphasizes Rein.
Since tours are how Scenic began, it seems a natural fit for agent sales in the U.S. market. “They’ve been sold for 30 years worldwide, but we’ve never had 'the bandwidth'" to move forward in the U.S. market, she notes. Now, they do.
As the company rolls out its global tour product for U.S. agents to sell later this year, the company plans to encourage agents to sell “combinations” -- a tour and a river product (which U.S. agents already sell), so guests have a robust, immersive vacation.
Currently, U.S. travel agents sell two Scenic river cruise brands -- ultra-luxury Scenic and premium Emerald Waterways, which is in the midst of doubling its fleet size from four to seven vessels.
Scenic Joins CLIA
Scenic recently joined Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) as a CLIA Global member line. “So that is going to give us far more exposure to the travel agency community,” says Rein.
“We will be at Cruise360 next month in a very big way,” she says. That CLIA conference is set for April 18-24 at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Also new, in the third quarter of 2017, the line will launch "Scenic Hub," a new online community for travel partners to access for lots of marketing collateral and another layer of support.
That’s in addition to the line’s existing online travel agent portal.
“We’ll also launch our travel agency advisory board in the third quarter,” says Rein. “We’d really like to get more feedback and have more trade discussions. As we work to successfully grow the market, that collaboration is going to be critical.”
Rein says Scenic is committed to education, growing its relationships with travel agency partners and showing them effective ways to sell a luxury product that's highly inclusive with high price points.
It's important for the line as it expands its reach with more product. A new oceangoing, high-end “Discovery Yacht” product is also now being sold by U.S. agents.
The 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse will debut on August 18, 2018; while sailing in polar regions the maximum passenger count will be 200 guests. Carrying a Polar Class 6 (Ice Class 1A Super) rating, it will initially sail 20 global itineraries including Arctic and Antarctic voyages.
It will carry two twin-engine helicopters, custom-built Zodiacs and a submarine, plus have a theater and heated pools.
On the job for just four months, Rein finds: “We’re not doing a good job on showing agents how to sell luxury and what the luxury customer looks like. What’s the demographic? When you see one of these people in your neighborhood, how do you know them?”
She also says that to successfully sell luxury, agents shouldn’t be afraid to expand their book of business because financial and emotional rewards await. Many agents get a high sense of satisfaction after making just their first or second luxury sale.
Overall, “this year is strong as far as looking at the business coming in,” says Rein. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Industry trends she sees? Based on past guest feedback, “we’re seeing our family of brands incorporate a lot more active shore excursions and events.”
Boomers are more health conscious and are asking for options in that area, plus "we’re skewing lower for both river brands,” says Rein. Generally for both brands the average age is now about 55 or so.
“That’s come down dramatically,” she said, noting that “on Emerald Waterways, you’re going to see that age drop even farther because that experience lends itself to a younger demographic.”
She described the newest affluent guests as active and independent, people who are seeking full immersion and adventure.
Building Customer Confidence
Another new feature for Scenic is the unusual river cruise guarantee it just added. It’s fully funded with Chubb Insurance and provides protections for guests from high or low water, acts of God or mechanical breakdowns – all events that could prevent a river cruise from sailing.
This past year was a challenging season for European river lines with water levels. “Now, if any of these things happen before you go, before you book…. it gives a cash back refund, not a future cruise and not a scramble [by the lines for alternative options],” says Rein.
Simply put, Rein says: “We’re trying to build consumer confidence in general by taking that concern off the table as consideration for trying a river cruise vacation."