A fortuitous trio of factors came together recently, making this a prime time for travel advisors to sell river cruises. Namely, 1) the unleashing of pent-up demand for international travel from the past few years of pandemic-initiated lockdown; 2) the abandonment of COVID restrictions by countries, cruise lines and now even the CDC; and 3) the parity of the US dollar against the euro.
When researching leads to book a river cruise, travel advisors often come back to their established river cruise clients…and they should. But they would also benefit from considering expanding the prospect pool to travelers who are new to river cruising but are looking for similar elements in the types of trips they typically take. For example, with a little strategy, travelers who love land adventures, FIT travelers, and ocean cruisers can all be converted into regular river cruisers.
Here are some tips for marketing and closing more sales with prospects new to river cruising, offered by travel consultants who are successfully selling to this market segment.
1. Book groups for a first river cruise together
Jean Paugh, CTC, ECC, CSS, President of All About You Travel, uses group policy when booking river cruisers for the first time. “I form groups and then accompany the trip. I share my experiences with them and tell them about local enrichment and entertainment on river cruises. My BDMs help with presentations, either in person or via video. I find first time river cruisers feel most comfortable traveling with me in a small group.
There are countless ways to bring groups together on river cruises. Special interest cruises, for example, bring people together for a beer tasting adventure, hiking or biking tours, a culinary tour, an arts tour, or a storytelling cruise with a famous author or musician. Or a group can be assembled that shares a common interest and they simply want to explore new areas of the world together.
2. Talk to Guests Who Don’t Take Ocean Cruises Because of Motion Sickness
“I love selling river cruises to my customers who ‘can’t sail the ocean because of the motion!’ said Suanne Adair, ECCS, LCS, DS, PRTE, owner of Adair to Travel, LLC. “They are having a wonderful time.”
Not only is there no disruptive motion and absolutely no seasickness on the rivers, but the ships dock in ports close to everything. Adair continued, “People don’t realize how close to town and how close you are to exploring on your own when you take a river cruise. I explain how the pace is slower, how smaller and more intimate the ship will be, and how easy it is to get to know the guests and crew.
3. Research new travelers to Europe
“A lot of my river cruisers are on their first trip to Europe and think this is a great way to get their feet wet,” said Anne Kulhanek, CTC, owner of Premier Travel LLC. “They want to explore an area and desire some independence, but they don’t want to be totally independent.”
4 Listen to travelers who want to visit multiple countries in one trip
It makes sense, as Paugh put it, that “guests who want to explore multiple countries in a week or those looking for a more enriched experience of particular destinations would be good candidates for river cruising. They can unpack once and see multiple destinations.
She went on to say, “Don’t be afraid to zigzag when customers want to zigzag. The river cruise is such a wonderful value and experience. You learn and see so much more when you travel in the middle of the countries, you really immerse yourself with the locals.”
5. Identify prospects who want culture-rich travel experiences
“River cruise customers are people who are inspired by the world around them, people who enjoy following their passions and having culturally rich experiences while on vacation,” said Camille Olivere, Sales Director of the Globus Family of Brands, which includes the popular river cruise. Avalon Waterways brand.
“River cruising offers guests the opportunity to get off the beaten path, cruise without crowds and explore unknown destinations. These are cruises that invite travelers to explore the world in new, immersive ways while providing them with a floating boutique hotel to easily get from destination to destination. It’s the perfect balance between what’s great about a vacation on land and the joy and ease that comes with cruising around the world.
Travel advisors would do well to consider current FIT travelers when looking to increase their river cruise sales.
6. Offer the river cruise to cruise passengers who are tired of being at sea
Current ocean cruisers are a place to look for new river cruise customers. “Most river cruise customers come from ocean cruisers — travelers looking for an alternative to the big ship experience — and there are more than 12 million of them in the United States alone,” explained Olivere.
Travel agents need to educate their ocean cruising clients that with river cruising, the ship is not the experience; the destination is the experience. The ships dock right in the heart of the destination… just in front of the Eiffel Tower or in front of the Citadel of Budapest, for example. Thus, travelers “see” instead of “sea”.
Other notable differences between river cruising and ocean cruising include: fewer guests (perhaps 150 instead of 3,000); smaller ships with a more intimate ambience; Guest/crew ratio of 1:3 (instead of 1:6); more time and nights in port (rather than days and nights at sea); no more daytime sailing and the possibility of sitting on the deck and watching the landscapes, villages and castles pass by; and a host of daily excursions that take travelers to the center of destinations.
7. Emphasize the truly all-inclusive nature of river cruising
Another key selling point for river cruising is its all-inclusive nature. “Everything is included (accommodation, meals, city tours, drinks, etc.) for one price,” Kulhanek said. “You are well taken care of, but you can do whatever you want (get off the ship independently, walk around or just relax in the lounge).
And all of these daily shore excursions are included in the cruise package, resulting in higher overall commissions for travel advisors.
For those considering increasing their sales by reaching out to new river cruise customers, consider these parting words from Olivere: “River cruising has arrived. It’s no longer a niche market. Advisors who see it as a real, immersive and amazing cruise alternative are capitalizing on the hottest trend – with the greatest earning potential – in travel.
And Kulhanek said: “It’s so gratifying when customers come back delighted from their river cruise. The onboard experience never disappoints. They return home asking for other rivers to explore. And of course, that translates into repeat business.