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Two river cruise lines dominated the stage at Seatrade Cruise Virtual: AmaWaterways and American Cruise Lines, which each held dedicated media briefings on the eventual return of foreign and domestic sailings (respectively).
"Oceans take you to countries; rivers take you through them.” This quote is not only loved by Kristin Karst, co-founder and executive vice president of AmaWaterways, but serves as a perfect illustration of the contrast between ocean and river cruising — one that applies to waterways both local and abroad.
AmaWaterways“We’ve built our company in partnership with our travel advisors,” said Gary Murphy, co-owner and senior vice president of sales of AmaWaterways. “We recognize that they know where the clients are. And when business comes back, they’re the people who we will work with to reach out to those clients and get them on our ships.”
Contributing to AmaWaterways’ success during the current pandemic, according to Rudi Schreiner, co-founder and president of the line, is a fleet of two dozen ships free of any loans. Additionally, the brand is using this time to remodel its existing riverboats and continue construction on three new vessels: AmaDahlia, AmaLucia and AmaSiena.
Current booking trends indicate a strong 2021 — as this June was a record sales month for the coming season — and the company even opened bookings for 2022 six months earlier than usual.
"Travel advisors are our extended marketing arm and sales force,” Karst said. “It’s all about partnerships.”
What’s more, Murphy notes that agent feedback indicates that big ship ocean cruise clients are starting to look more to smaller river cruises.
Looking further ahead, AmaWaterways is seeing greater demand for multigenerational travel as families wish to travel together coming beyond the pandemic. As a result of offering more active options, the line’s demographic is skewing younger overall.
"We can’t wait to start cruising again and having our travel advisor partners cruise with us.” Murphy said.
American Cruise LinesDomestic line American Cruise Lines (ACL) is also anticipating a successful 2021 based on large sales numbers, and hopes to restart service along the lower Mississippi River this year for the holiday season.
"People are ready to travel, [and] they want to get back [to] cruising,” said Susan Shultz-Gelino, vice president of trade relations for the brand. “I think a lot of people who have cruised Europe before are now looking to do something closer to home, and I think that’s [why] we’re seeing the increase in sales.”
Also next year, the brand will officially introduce the new American Jazz and American Melody, which is now preparing its forward hull to be joined to the aft section ahead of the riverboat’s launch.
She advised agents to take advantage of vouchers that a lot of customers opted for, and to book now, as space will be limited.
Shultz-Gelino added that the line offers its own private motorcoaches and will operate more shore excursions with fewer people to ensure physical distancing. Luxury busses will be cleaned before and after every departure. Initial sailings will also be limited to 75% capacity onboard.
"It’s important to remember that [ACL] has a lot of ports people can drive to,” said Alexa Paolella, manager of public relations for ACL. “We do have a lot of roundtrips from certain cities, [so] some people can skip flights, which I know is a big draw for certain people.”
To that end, Shultz-Gelino’s team of business development managers has been educating travel advisors about ACL.
"Those who were doing mostly river cruising over in Europe have now been trained to do U.S. domestic cruising, and I think it’s been a huge help in our sales,” she said.
The line has consistently enjoyed repeat business, but now there are a lot of individual and group bookings from those new to the brand who are transferring over their reservations from Europe for 2021 and 2022.
She additionally believes smaller ships, as well as ACL’s larger cabins with private balconies, are appealing more to clients.
“People feel very comfortable, and they like our protocols as well,” she said.
American Cruise Lineswww.americancruiselines.com