Here are some key selling points travel advisors need to know about immersive river cruise experiences, cruise clientele expectations and popular destinations.
The river cruise market continues to grow with new river cruise ships and destinations being added each year. If you are a luxury travel advisor who is not currently selling river cruises then you are missing out on a lucrative market segment. It is a predominantly all-inclusive product that appeals to travelers seeking destination-focused experiences while traveling on the rivers in numerous parts of the world.
Brandon Cosinteno, co-owner and luxury travel advisor of Live Luxe Travel Co., an independent affiliate of Andavo Travel, a Virtuoso Agency in Indianapolis, Ind., is experiencing strong river cruise sales for his agency. “Our river cruise business has continued to grow over the past 12 months and looking forward, we continue to see an increased level of interest in river cruises,” he says. “We saw a lot of our luxury clients plan trips closer to home during 2021 and 2022, but now that the world is fully back open, they are looking for new experiences.”
Tourism board representatives among river cruise destination offerings agree with the strength of the river cruise market. “The river cruising business has been growing for decades in Germany,” says Ricarda Lindner, regional manager The Americas for the German National Tourist Office. “It is simply an attractive form of traveling for a lot of people. They can visit multiple destinations without having to change accommodation and without the hassle of packing or unpacking in each destination. Different English-speaking options of shore excursions are another plus and the vessels offer a great environment and comfort.”
Types of River Cruise Travelers
Kristin Karst, co-founder and executive vice president of AmaWaterways, says river cruising is a good choice for varied types of clients. “River cruising has certainly become a more mainstream vacation option that many travel advisors are proposing to all types and ages of travelers,” she says. “While river cruising did start off attracting retired travelers with time and money to spend, it has really become a very attractive option for anyone interested in discovering four or five countries during a seven-night period. For many people who are able to work remotely and take advantage of our free WiFi, combining several river cruises into longer stays allows them to get maximum benefit from the cost of airfares.”
Cosinteno adds that “river cruises are great for couples and seasoned travelers who want a different and unique experience. You can sell river cruises to a large portion of your client base if you sell it right.”
Betsy Patton (CTC, DS), a luxury travel advisor for Direct Travel Luxe, a Virtuoso Agency in Naples, Fla., believes “even non-cruisers are right for river cruising.” She continues: “Quite a bit of ground is covered on a river cruise that would be impossible to do by car or train in a short time.”
Sell the All-Inclusive Concept
Patton’s “clients like the all-inclusiveness of a river cruise.” She adds: “It’s pretty much a given that shore excursions are included in the cost of a river cruise. Some river cruise companies include all gratuities for the onboard staff as well as for local guides off the ship. Also, some river cruises include all wines and spirits as well as water, coffees and sodas.”
The all-inclusive rate is key for Cosinteno’s clients. “We find that our river cruise clients want everything included and want the rate they are booking to be inclusive of everything they might need on their cruise,” he says. “The included shore excursions are important and a crucial selling point since river cruises visit unique destinations, and part of the experience of a river cruise is seeing the destinations you are visiting, even more so than an ocean cruise.”
Sell the Intimate and Immersive Experience
The intimate size of river cruise ships is attractive to luxury travelers, according to Rudi Schreiner, co-founder and president of AmaWaterways. “Not only are there no line ups or crowds of people anywhere on board a river cruise ship, but the ease of getting on and off the ship in the destinations visited makes them so convenient and flexible,” he says.
Patton agrees. “One of the key selling points for river cruises is the number of people accommodated on each river ship,” she says. “These river cruises are for a much smaller number of travelers. Therefore, excursions off the river ships are with smaller groups and often allow for starting a tour right from the pier in the open air.”
In addition to offering a more intimate cruise experience, river cruising provides an in-depth or immersive look into a country. “It offers a stress-free and a leisurely way to travel from point to point, original regional vistas and an opportunity, during stops, to explore lesser-known sites and meet local experts and residents,” according to Agnès Angrand, deputy director USA of Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency. “[Included shore excursions] allow clients to take in up-close the unique destinations along the rivers that different regions have to offer—architectural heritage, food and wine, arts and crafts, etc.”
Patton stresses that good river cruise selling points are available curated experiences and the choice of shore excursions. She says advisors should ask: “Are these types of unique experiences offered? If so, are these curated experiences included or are they available for purchase?” Patton adds that “some river cruise companies do allow a couple of choices [of shore excursions] in some ports, especially in Europe.”
Focus on the Destination
River cruises traditionally focus heavily on the destination. “By cruising overnight and docking conveniently in the center of towns and villages, river cruising effectively doubles the amount of leisure time that a guest can actually spend in the destination compared to other types of vacations,” said Schreiner. “There is no time wasted packing and unpacking, checking in and out of hotels, or waiting in airports; a river cruise allows guests to relax and wake up each morning ready to explore a new destination with the help of knowledgeable local guides.”
It’s all about stressing “location, location, location” when Cosinteno sells river cruises. “We sell them as a chance to experience unique destinations in a unique way,” he says. “River cruising offers a relaxed and unique way to see the destination without constantly fighting crowds.”
Europe “is definitely the most popular destination we’ve seen” says Cosinteno. “But we're also seeing Nile River Cruises make a comeback and are getting a lot more interest from our clients.”
Patton is also selling a lot of Europe river cruises. “Clients desire to have an in-depth experience in the interior of these European countries,” she says. “It’s different and fun to explore small towns and cities that are not accessible on a larger ocean cruise.” She adds: “There are opportunities to take walking tours or an excursion by bicycle provided by the river ship; it’s just not an eat-and-drink cruise experience.”
Travel advisors should also sell a pre- or post-cruise land package with their clients river cruise. “We do see sell pre and post quite often, particularly on our Europe river cruises,” says Cosinteno. “It's a chance for the client to add a few nights in the destination.”
Angrand adds: “Pre-tours allow clients to experience their starting off point, a sort of introduction to the country, before setting sail. And post-tours do the same in reverse and provide a soft-landing as it were before the trip home.”