Written By: Tom Ogg
Oh, river cruises. I so remember our first one. While we had been on
hundreds of ocean cruises, our first river cruise experience was on the then Amadeus Cruises (now AMA) cruising the Moselle River. We cruised out of Amsterdam and up the Rhine to the Moselle River.
There we explored the area and had more fun than anyone should be
allowed to. That experience led to several more river cruises and a keen interest in the river cruise market.
Fast forward to today and the river cruise industry is maturing in a way ocean going cruises have in the past. After explosive growth over the last 15 years where river cruises ran at 100% occupancy supported mainly by the baby boomers seeking new and interesting experiences, the river cruise segment is now starting to expand its products to include
multigenerational, family and millennial markets.
While the era of explosive growth (said to be 15% year on year) was
fantastic for travel agents, it was also very frustrating, as demand outpaced supply. Agents would have clients motivated by the segment’s advertising and promotion, as well as word of mouth from friends that had taken a European river cruise, but could not find space to book them into for a year or two. This phenomenon led to agents not actively promoting river cruises for lack of space and availability.
With larger fleets and a more competitive marketplace, river cruises are
introducing many benefits that mirror what their ocean going cruise line counterparts have done to increase demand for their cruises. Discounted air, on board credits, 2 for 1 deals, pre and post cruise hotel stays and so forth are stimulating demand. One thing is for sure, travel agents are the dominant channel river cruise companies are focusing on as their primary distribution.
Reasons that You Should Consider Selling River Cruises
Large Commissions: Unlike ocean going mass market cruise lines that have large NCFs resulting in low commissions, river cruises pay handsome commissions to travel agents and there are no NCFs. In fact, the all inclusive nature of most of the river cruise fleet results in travel agents earning commissions on dining, included liquor, shore excursions and just about everything the passenger enjoys. Even better, if an agent focuses on one line and gains the volume necessary to earn overrides and promotional support, the commissions become even larger. One agent sums it up as “commissions with commas”.
Client Satisfaction: River cruises enjoy one of the highest client
satisfaction ratings of any vacation product. The dining, accommodations, service and itineraries are at the same level as the premium and luxury ocean going cruises, yet offer a much more intimate experience. The ability to experience interior rivers that lead to some of the world’s most dramatic cities, picturesque villages, castles and unique cultures in comfort without having to pack and unpack as one would have to do on a land based motor coach tour make river cruising a very satisfying way to explore countries worldwide.
Sophistication of Sale: River cruise price points tend to be much higher for potential clients and generally attract a more sophisticated and well traveled client than ocean going cruises, especially mass market ocean going cruises. For the most part, river cruise clients are motivated by the experience of exploring different cultures and destinations in depth which is what river cruises excel at.
World Wide Itineraries: While it is best to specialize in river cruises that you are quite knowledgeable about, river cruises are found on practically every river world wide. Of course, European river cruises represent a large portion of the river cruise market, but China, Asia, Russia, North and South America, Africa, the Nile and Australia all offer a diversity of river cruise
Client Referrals: Once you have established yourself as a river cruise
expert you will find that clients will gladly refer their friends and neighbors to you for their river cruises. While we all know the benefits of seeing a
medical expert that specializes in what ails us, seeing a river cruise
specialist for a river cruise vacation makes a ton of sense. Remember,
referred clients come to you already sold on your knowledge and expertise making the sale a much easier process.
Growth Market: Even with the explosive growth of the river cruise fleet over the last ten years, river cruising is still a growth market. There are still a good number of new river boats on order and ocean cruise companies like Crystal Cruises and Fred Olsen Cruise Line have entered the river cruise market with exceptional offerings. While the mass market lines have not ventured into the river cruise market it is quite easy to see the potential for them to do so.
The demographics of river cruising is expanding as well. U by Uniworld is focused on Millennials, AMA is offering “active” cruises for those wanting to hike, bike or focus on wellness during their cruise. Uniworld offers bikes for use by their passengers as does Avalon and other river cruise lines.
Group Friendly: Many of the river cruise lines start their group programs with just 10 people. This makes booking and promoting groups quite productive. Expect group amenities such as a complimentary cabin, on board credits, shore excursions for your group exclusively with a minimum
number of participants and so on.
Solo River Cruisers: Many of the river cruise lines do not charge single supplements like the ocean going lines do or have cabins designed
specifically for single travelers. This makes river cruises an exceptional value for your single clients that still want to cruise.
So there are a ton of reasons why you should sell river cruises, but why should clients buy them?
Following is a list of motivating touch points clients should know.
River Cruises are Inclusive: Sure the price point is much higher than a mass-market ocean cruise but river cruising inclusive nature makes them an unbeatable value. Instead of a four figure account to pay at the end of an ocean cruise, river cruisers have nominal charges.
River Cruises are Intimate: Because of the limits in ship size because of low bridges and the length of locks the maximum number of passengers on a river cruise is never more than 200. This makes getting to know fellow passengers is quite easy. You will be with them dining, in the lounge, on tour and generally during the cruise. Best of all, the staff will get to know you well too.
Motion Sickness is Not an Issue: Because cruising on a river never
involves turbulence, passengers that suffer from motion sickness are
perfect for a river cruise.
River Cruises are Casual: There is no need for a tuxedo, or even a tie. Some men will wear a sports coat at the Captain’s “Welcome Aboard” and “Farewell” dinners, but most will just wear shirts with a collar or polo shirts.
Itineraries: River cruises only cruise a few hundred miles and explore a region in depth. There are worldwide itineraries available for one to explore.
Dock in the Heart of a Port: River cruises generally dock right in the
epicenter of a post so that one can walk off the ship and start exploring immediately.
Cultural Based Shore Excursions: River cruises provide cultural
immersion in the regions that they operate. It is the very best way to
explore a region and understand its history and people.
Here are client profiles of who would not be viable river cruise candidates.
Mass Market Cruisers: Clients who love cruising the largest ships
because they love the entertainment, diversity of restaurants, gambling, kid’s programs and such would not make viable river cruise clients.
Young Families: Families with young children would find the lack of things for the kids to do would not like river cruises.
Those with Mobile Disabilities: River cruise boats are not ADA compliant and most river cruise destinations are also not ADA compliant.