How to Close More Sales With New-to-River-Cruise Clients

A random trio of factors have recently come together, making this a prime time for travel consultants to start selling river cruises. Namely 1) the release of pent-up international travel demand from the last few years of the pandemic-related lockdown; 2) the lifting of COVID restrictions by countries, cruise lines, and now even the CDC; and 3) the parity of the US dollar to the euro.

When looking for prospects to book a river cruise, travel agents often go back to their established river cruise clients… and they should. But they would also benefit if they considered expanding the pool of prospects to include travelers who are new to river cruising but seek similar elements in the types of trips they typically take. For example, with a little strategy, travelers enjoying land adventures, FIT travelers, and ocean cruisers can all be rebuilt into returning river cruisers.

Here are some tips for marketing and driving more sales to prospective river cruise customers offered by travel consultants who are successful in selling this segment of the market.

1. Book groups for first-time river cruises together
Jean Paugh, CTC, ECC, CSS, President of All About You Travel, uses a group strategy when booking river cruises for the first time. “I put groups together and then accompany the journey. I share my experiences with them and tell them about the local enrichment and entertainment on river cruises. My BDMs help with presentations, either in person or via video. I find river cruise newbies feel more 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 on a beer tasting adventure, hiking or biking excursion, culinary tour, art tour, or storytelling cruise with a famous author or musician. Or a group can be put together that has a common interest and simply wants to explore new regions of the world together.

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2. Approach customers who don’t go on ocean cruises because of motion sickness
“I love selling river cruises to my guests who ‘can’t go to sea because of the exercise!’ said Suanne Adair, ECCS, LCS, DS, PRTE, owner of Adair to Travel, LLC. “You are having a wonderful time.”

Not only are there no disturbing movements and virtually no seasickness on the rivers, the ships also dock in ports that are close to everything. Adair continued, “People don’t realize how close to the city and walking distance you can explore on your own when you go on a river cruise. I explain how much slower the pace is, how much smaller and more intimate the ship is becoming, and how easy it is to get to know guests and crew.”

3. Look for first-time travelers to Europe
“Many of my river cruise ships are on their first voyage 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 a region and want some independence, but they don’t want to be completely independent.”

4 Beware of travelers planning to visit multiple countries in one trip
It makes perfect sense, as Paugh said, that “customers looking to explore multiple countries in a week or those looking for an enriching experience of specific destinations are good river cruise candidates. You can unpack once and see multiple targets.”

She continued, “Don’t be afraid to zigzag if customers want zigzags. River cruises are a wonderful experience. You learn and see so much more traveling through the middle of countries, you really immerse yourself in the locals.”

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5. Identify potential customers who want culture-rich travel experiences
“River cruise customers are people who are inspired by the world around them, people who enjoy pursuing their passions and enjoying culture-rich experiences on vacation,” said Camille Olivere, chief sales officer for the Globus family of brands, which also includes the popular river cruise belongs to Avalon Waterways brand.

“River cruises offer guests the opportunity to get off the beaten path without crossing crowds and exploring undiscovered destinations. These are cruises that invite travelers to explore the world in new, immersive ways while providing them with a floating boutique hotel that allows them to get from destination to destination with ease. 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 if they are looking to increase their river cruise sales.

6. Recommend river cruises to ocean cruisers who are tired of being at sea
One place to look for new river cruise customers is current ocean cruisers. “Most river cruise customers come from ocean cruising – travelers looking for an alternative to the big ship experience – and there are more than 12 million of them in the US alone,” explained Olivere.

Travel agents need to educate their ocean cruising clients that on river cruising, the ship is not the experience; The goal is the experience. The ships dock right in the heart of the destination … for example right in front of the Eiffel Tower or in front of the Citadel in Budapest. Travelers “see” instead of “sea”.

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Other notable differences between river cruises and ocean cruises are: fewer guests (perhaps 150 instead of 3,000); smaller ships with more intimate ambience; 1:3 guest-crew ratio (instead of 1:6); more time and nights in port (instead of days and nights at sea); more day trips and the chance to sit on the deck and watch the landscapes, villages and castles go by; and a variety of daily excursions that bring travelers to the heart of destinations.

7. Emphasize the truly all-inclusive nature of river cruising
Another key selling point for river cruises is the all-inclusive nature. “Everything is included (accommodation, meals, city tours, drinks, etc.) for one price,” says Kulhanek. “You are well looked after but can do whatever you want (get off the ship on your own, join the tour 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 consultants.

For those considering increasing their sales by reaching new river cruise customers, consider these parting words from Olivere: “River cruises have arrived. It’s no longer a niche market. Consultants who see this as a real, immersive and amazing cruise alternative are embracing the hottest trend – with the best earning potential – in the travel industry.”

And Kulhanek said: “It is so rewarding when customers come back enthusiastic about their river cruise. The onboard experience never disappoints. They come back home and ask about other rivers to explore.” And of course that leads to repeat business.

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