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For the moment, AmaWaterways cannot accommodate American travelers abroad, but the river cruise line is looking forward to when it can once more. Over Zoom, I had the chance to discuss the current state of river cruising with AmaWaterways co-founders, Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst. They even shared a number of exciting fleet and itinerary developments you may not yet be aware of.
During the call, Schreiner and Karst indicated that all sailings are now currently suspended through Oct. 31 with the exception of regional German charters onboard AmaKristina, which has served as a positive case study for the line’s new health and safety protocols.
The famed Christmas markets are planning to open in most European cities, so there is still hope that AmaWaterways will be able to expand operations to include U.S. travelers on some ships along the Rhine and Danube rivers in 2020.
Most importantly to advisors, AmaWaterways has paid full commissions on all suspended sailings, and once clients are rebooked with 115% future cruise credits and set sail, there will be another round of bonus commissions paid at 10%.
“It goes back to the agents,” Karst said. “We admire them [and] their resiliency. Kudos to travel advisors that more of our guests have actually opted to receive a future cruise credit than to take a refund.”
The travel advisor community brings us the business. They are our frontline heroes.
What will it take for Americans to be able to come onboard again? And when do you think that might be?Schreiner: Right now, the European Union is evaluating all the countries that are allowed to enter the E.U. every two weeks. They measure it by percentage of new cases by country. So, the U.S. is not allowed.
What is happening in Europe is that every country is starting to deviate from the E.U. and create their own policy. Hungary just announced that they’re closing off the country completely. So, we can’t cruise on the Danube into Hungary anymore. Everything is really on a watch from today until tomorrow, and so on. Nobody really knows what will be happening in a week or so.
How long do you think new health and safety guidelines will have to be in place before some degree of normalcy returns? Do you expect any of the new protocols to continue beyond the pandemic?Schreiner: I do not think anybody can answer that question. It will depend on the first vaccine. Probably before that, we will have better medication. There is no assurance when the whole thing will restart. We hope that by March of next year we will be cruising with our entire fleet.
I am already looking into ship design for the future. We are remodeling the AmaBella and the AmaVerde to go away completely from the buffet and to have all meals served. What that means is rebuilding the restaurant setup and also rebuilding the kitchen. [There will be] no more buffets, but maybe show-kitchen stations [instead].
That is what we are planning to do right now with the first two ships. This can be a long-term effect. So, there will be changes. I think outside areas and fresh-air balconies are going to be very important. Eighty percent of our staterooms have balconies. We have a ton of space on the top deck and we’re considering more outdoor dining.
Karst: In addition, we have added a new option of private river-view dining for any guests who prefer to take their meals in their staterooms. However, we have found that most guests still prefer dining in the main restaurant or in the Chef’s Table restaurant.
Do you foresee any modifications to commission structures as travel advisors prepare for 2021 and beyond?Karst: There is no reason for us to make any changes. The travel advisor community brings us the business. They are our frontline heroes. They have done so well in these times. They are our partners, and we are their partner. So, we want to reward them for everything they have done.
I think we are very generous in what we have decided to do. We have established this policy in March from the beginning. We have not changed it. This is what you have with AmaWaterways, and it works very well. And the travel advisors are happy. They applaud us. AmaWaterways is honest, straightforward [and] consistent — and we stick to our word.
What can travel advisors be doing now to foster future bookings? Should they still be directing their clients to late 2020 cruises?Karst: We have probably done about close to 2,000 virtual cruise nights, sip-and-sail hours and tea-and-coffee hours. Our sales force must stay very active, and I have done many of these virtual cruise nights myself and have seen so many new bookings coming from it, including group and individual bookings.
Right now, it is about planting seeds and nurturing the client. It is not about the hard sell, but it is preparing for the future. We still hope that we can cruise at the end of the year [and] that we still get a couple of weeks. Interest is very, very strong, so we keep booking.
Right now, it is about planting seeds and nurturing the client. It is not about the hard sell, but it is preparing for the future.
Outside of Americans eventually returning onboard, what is AmaWaterways looking forward to? Are there any new ships and itineraries?Schreiner: We have three new ships under construction. We are finishing the AmaSiena, which is a little delayed due to COVID-19. And we have the AmaLucia. Those ships are both coming next year on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. And then we have the AmaDahlia for Egypt, which will be starting in September 2021.
Back in April, before everything froze, Kristin and I were supposed to go on another exploration cruise. I cannot quite tell you where, but we were supposed to look at another river and another continent. And last January, we flew to Senegal, and we went on a Gambia river cruise just to see what is going on there. And afterward, we continued to the Ivory Coast and Ghana.
It was an interesting area and itinerary. Everything in Gambia is around Kunta Kinteh Island. It was really a unique destination — beautiful people and a nice area. Eventually, in the future, we might be doing something along there. We’re always looking at new destinations and itineraries.
Do you think there might ever be a sister ship to the AmaMagna?Schreiner: We have been talking about it for a while. We actually had plans to possibly do something for 2022. Right now, things are again on hold. There is a lot in the future being planned.
One thing I believe, once this is over, river cruising will be booming. People are looking at small-ship adventures. One thing you get on a river cruise is double the leisure time than you get on any other means of transportation in Europe.
Here, you go to bed at night, you wake up the next morning, and you are in a different city. You step off the ship, and you are in town. You physically do not waste any time in rush-hour traffic. You do not have to pack, unpack. And that experience — the fresh air and small-group environment — makes it something that will come back roaring as soon as this whole thing is over.
Karst: Everyone wants to travel again in the future. The pent-up demand is there. The pent-up demand is building.