|Photo courtesy American Cruise Lines|
It’s been several years since agents have routinely sold Mississippi River cruises, so we asked Susan Shultz, director of sales, American Cruise Lines (www.americancruiselines.com), for her perspective on how to sell river cruising in America’s heartland.
“The Mississippi River is a unique product, and a rewarding one for travel agents, when properly presented to clients,” said Shultz. “The number one piece of advice we can give agents is to know the facts about this type of cruise vacation and the ships and companies which offer it.”
Shultz also provided positioning advice and sales tips for agents:
What’s the potential for agents? How do retailers best sell Mississippi cruises?
"Mississippi cruising is a historic pastime that is remembered and loved by paddlewheeling and riverboat enthusiasts all over the country and globe. Investing the time to learn the history and understand the product inside and out will have a huge payoff.
"By the time they are well-versed in the product, agents will be fully able to paint the picture for their clients and choose which company they should travel with.
"Agents who sell the Mississippi understand that the two critical aspects of an enjoyable cruise are ‘being on the River’ and ‘being on the riverboat.
"Rich interior décor, spacious staterooms, private balconies, fine cuisine, low passenger capacity, and engaging entertainment are critical components of the riverboat that enhance the experience of being on the river.
"The cruise is meant to take you back in time."
What specific steps do you recommend?
"Do your homework on the history of Mississippi River cruising and the companies that offer it. There are many great online and print resources. Of course, we’re also happy to brief any agent at their convenience.
"Listen to training Webinars. Understand the distinctions of the cruise and the riverboat, and how and why these apply to particular clients.
"Visuals do wonders for selling. Have brochures or downloadable PDFs available to review with clients.
"Know, identify and find your clients. For our particular product, target affluent, educated individuals who enjoy enriching and refined travel, and perhaps are keen on historic destinations.
"Search your own database, you likely have riverboating buffs already in there. This cruising option has been dormant for several years, and many people have been anxiously awaiting its return."
What are the best messages?
"Tell your clients that a cruise like this is history in the making. It’s bringing back the historic pastime of overnight cruising to the Mississippi River.
"Tell clients they may experience river cruising like never before, and how it was originally done – on authentic paddlewheelers.
"Finally, talk about how they will discover the history of the American heartland."
Let’s talk about your new river boat, Queen of the Mississippi. What should agents emphasize to their clients if selling this specific product?
"It’s newly built for 2012. It’s a small ship product with 150 passengers. It’s a low density ship, with high square footage per passenger. Guests can expect personalized service.
"While it’s new, it’s modeled after the classic riverboats of the late 1800s and includes a fully functioning paddlewheel.
"It’s also built to meet modern day standards in safety, technology and comfort.
"Onboard, clients will have a refined onboard experience and numerous amenities. This includes room service, entirely private balconies with sliding glass doors, inside entrances, single sitting/open seating dining, complimentary bottled water and beverages, and more.
"For onboard entertainment, clients can expect engaging riverlorians and guest lecturers, as well as recognizable entertainment groups who will bring back the Blues, Dixieland, Rock and Roll and Jazz, music synonymous with Mississippi River cruising.
"We’ll also offer unique shore excursions that highlight the best of each river town."