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Eight river cruise experts chatted about the future of the market during a June 29 webinar that was jointly hosted by Northstar Travel Group brands TravelAge West, TravelPulse and Travel Weekly.
Following are a few highlights from each participating cruise line’s representative.
Amadeus River CruisesAlthough the company has been around for 40 years, Amadeus River Cruises has never seen such a profound interruption in service than that caused by COVID-19, according to Marcus Leskovar, executive vice president.
However, it’s not all bad news: Leskovar said that the European Union’s ban on U.S. travelers is not as dire as it may seem, given that there will be a re-evaluation of the policy every two weeks. In any case, Amadeus is offering to be a resource to travel advisors during this challenging time, offering them an instant 50% commission on 2021 cruises at the time of booking.
AmaWaterwaysKristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways, is also looking into the future, saying she is “encouraged by the strength of bookings for 2021.”
The company’s 2021 and 2022 schedules are currently available, and many agents are moving clients’ bookings to next year.
“We are confident that we can overcome,” she said.
Although not yet able to carry North American travelers, AmaKristina will begin welcoming German tourists in July. And like all the lines listed in this article, health and safety protocols are of paramount importance. The company confirmed it will be requiring guests to wear face masks while onboard its riverboats, and each ship — including the double-wide AmaMagna — will not exceed 100 guests.
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American Queen Steamboat CompanySomewhat in contrast, Kevin D. Smith, director of national accounts for American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC), said the domestic line will not mandate passenger masks onboard.
The line has partnered with Ochsner Health System to safely begin operating again on Aug. 3 with American Empress.
Looking into 2021, AQSC is offering up to $1,400 in early booking savings per stateroom. Plus, a number of fam trips for advisors will be released through August and September.
Avalon WaterwaysPam Hoffee, managing director of Avalon Waterways, pointed to the brand’s Avalon Assurance protocols for the onboard health and safety of passengers. (Note: The protocols are available in a detailed e-brochure on the company’s website.)
Avalon is further ensuring travelers’ peace of mind through 2021 by permitting guests to shift their cruise to another destination, trip, sister brand or 2021/2022 departure date before a final payment is made. It’s also presenting a free Panorama Suite upgrade as a perk for 2021 European voyages.
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Riviera River CruisesRiviera River Cruises may be relatively new to the U.S. market, but Marilyn G. Conroy, executive vice president of sales and marketing for North America, is also quick to point out its youthful fleet, which is under three years old.
The brand’s No. 1 selling point though, is that it sells exclusively through travel advisors.
Conroy touted Riviera’s demand for the “highest possible standard” of onboard wellness, which not only follows shipowner Scylla Cruises’ already strict guidance, but also that of Ian Greaves, Riviera’s health and safety specialist.
The line is also promoting a flexible booking policy for 2020, which allows cancellations up to 24 hours prior to a sailing.
Scenic GroupAnn Chamberlin, vice president sales for Scenic Group, was on-hand to discuss changes for Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and sister brand Emerald Waterways.
Currently, the lines are showcasing protected commissions for rebooked and fully paid reservations.
New for next year is Emerald Waterways’ Emerald Luna, as well as five-day Christmas market cruises, Springtime Delights sailings, complimentary extended drink packages and extended stays in Istanbul and Transylvania. Meanwhile, Scenic is locking in free economy flights for eight- to 10-day itineraries, or free premium flights for itineraries lasting 11 days or longer (if booked by Aug. 31).
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TauckThe last time Tauck paused its operations was in 1942, during World War II. So, the company is not worried about its current suspension, said Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck.
Instead, it is eyeing a resumption of service in September featuring intimate sailings with fewer guests.
Tauck — which also operates under Scylla Cruises — will be ready to go with enhanced health policies, which were recently updated on its website. Its Global Response Team is also following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization (in addition to gathering to feedback from guests) to formulate its best response moving forward.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise CollectionLastly, Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, reiterated that the well-being of Uniworld’s guests is the “most important thing” right now.
Specifically, Uniworld is cleaning its fleet with Act.Global’s CleanCoat product, an anti-microbe surface coating, to help disinfect the ships.
Looking further into the future, Bettridge noted that the scheduled launch of the new S.S. Sphinx and Mekong Jewel are still slated for September; the S.S. Sao Gabriel will be unveiled later in the year; and the freshly transformed S.S. La Venezia will be ready for 2021.