American Queen Steamboat Company credits much of its success to top-notch dining and entertainment. // © 2016 American Queen Steamboat Company
Feature image (above): The cruise line is looking to expand by either chartering or buying additional ships. // © 2016 American Queen Steamboat Company
“Business is booming,” said Ted Sykes, president of American Queen Steamboat Company, at the end of January.
According to Sykes, the company is breaking records week over week, and one seven-day period in January was the best it ever had in its five-year history, both in the Pacific Northwest and on the Mississippi. Now, American Queen is in the market for more ships, most likely to be deployed on the Mississippi and the Great Lakes.
Expanding capacity among American-flagged ships isn’t as easy as it sounds — unless, like Blount Small Ship Adventures and American Cruise Lines, the company has its own shipyard. Finding a yard with the ability to produce American-made river vessels is difficult, so chances are that American Queen will either charter or buy any additional ships. Although he couldn’t predict a target date, Sykes says the company hopes to announce expansion in the near future.
Repeat business is moving up significantly, according to Sykes, and he thinks there is a tendency in today’s political climate for Americans to choose to stay close to home. On the other hand, the company expected to take a hit from its international customers — who typically make up about 10 percent of guests — because of the strength of the dollar, but international bookings have already passed last year’s total. Sykes believes that the British, Australians and New Zealanders who make up this group also see the U.S. as an interesting, safe destination.
He notes that the age demographic — mature guests — tends to be about 10 years younger on Pacific Northwest cruises, which cater to active travelers with options such as bicycling, yoga and more.
Judging by passenger feedback, the factors driving the success that American Queen has experienced are its entertainment and dining, as well as its inclusions: a pre-cruise hotel stay; transfers; beer and wine with dinner; soft drinks, coffee and tea at all times; and
shore excursions, all folded into the base price.
Travel agents also profit from the inclusive policy. Sykes cites one agent whose company sells a great deal of American Queen; he says the average agency ticket on a cruise is $8,500 (they book mostly couples), which yields an impressive commission. The agent tells his employees they could choose: Book four roundtrip Hawaii vacations, or one cruise with American Queen.
“Not only is that a well-priced ticket, but with the customer satisfaction rates we are seeing, it can become an annuity,” Sykes said.
In addition, American Queen’s loyalty program, Steamboat Society of America (which can be signed up for online, by phone or on a ship), has some unique aspects that drive both brand loyalty and new sales. It allows cruisers to arrange ahead for friends and family to come onboard for a tour and breakfast or lunch on American Queen or American Empress while in port (except turnaround ports). Additionally, past guests can arrange to come onboard when the ship is in port near their residence (savvy agents take a look at the itinerary, remind their clients and sell from the visit). The future booking desk onboard is constantly busy, and agents are credited with the sales from this strong repeat clientele.