The other day, at a family event, I had a conversation with a couple who had just returned from their first-ever river cruise. They are ideal clients for agents — financially comfortable, retired, in good health and, best of all, curious about seeing the world. Their river cruise was in France, on the Dordogne. They told me all about the ports and the excursions and how much they loved the ambience on the ship. They said, very matter of factly, that river cruising was now their favorite way to travel. They have already started planning their next cruise.
It’s incredible to think that river cruising barely existed just a few years ago and that this form of travel is still in its infancy. As you will read in this issue’s cover story, “Choosing the Right River” (page 12), river cruising can be many things to many clients. There are now numerous river itineraries all over the world to consider, a variety of land-tour options and a seemingly ever-increasing number of ships. No matter which client you are working with, there is a river cruise that is perfect for him or her.
River cruising is also an ideal form of travel for agents because of its complexity. Plus, each river cruising experience seems to lead to increased interest in another river — which means travel planners need to stay one step ahead and be ready to recommend the next bucket list trip. In short, an agent who fails to educate himself or herself is missing out on one of the top opportunities in travel today.
An important step in this education process is for agents to review the highlights of a cruise after their clients return. Of course, a post-trip consultation should be standard for every trip an agent books, but it’s especially important with a river cruise, because differentiation is at the heart of the service a travel agent provides. So it’s not enough to stay up to date on the latest offerings on paper — an agent needs to learn as much as possible from clients’ firsthand experiences.
Make no mistake, there are a lot of challenges when it comes to selling river cruises. But an agent needs to take on these challenges if he or she wants to stay relevant in the future of the industry. Otherwise, river cruising will just continue to sail on by without them.