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With so many river cruise lines now sailing in Europe, it can be difficult to keep track of them all and, at times, even harder to differentiate them.
But Riviera River Cruises is different in many ways from its competitors. Marilyn Conroy, the line’s vice president of sales and marketing for North America, spoke with TravelAge West to highlight how the U.K.-based line is putting travel agents and their clients first.
What is Riviera River Cruises’ target passenger demographic?Everybody talks about marketing to millennials and Gen Z, but they are who we don’t market to. We target younger baby boomers because our average age is now about 55 to 60, and we figure if we market to that segment, hopefully they'll bring along their adult children — which is actually what’s been happening.
What sets Riviera ship hardware and software apart?Most of our vessels are provided to us by Scylla of Switzerland, which is probably one of the preeminent riverboat builders in the industry. One of our lovely features is the size of our cabins. They are significantly more spacious than a lot of our friendly competitors. Our cabins with French balconies are 183 square feet.
Our unique selling proposition is the price value, because you've got these beautiful ships that are amongst the youngest fleet in Europe, with spacious cabins, the alternative dining room at no charge and superb food and service. But we are significantly less expensive than our competitors. And we have to be more competitive in order to get the attention of travel agents; there are so many riverboats out there.
We’re also the friendliest river cruise company out there for single or solo travelers. On every departure, we have five or six cabins (typically double cabins) with no single supplement. We also provide exclusive departures throughout the season where the entire voyage is dedicated to the single or solo traveler, and every cabin has no single supplement.
How do you differ from, say, Tauck, which also utilizes Scylla vessels?The riverboats themselves are identical. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Tauck’s onboard product is different, of course. Tauck is completely all-inclusive whereas Riviera is not. We do not include alcoholic beverages, but we have a drinks package — which for seven nights is $159 — and it includes unlimited wine and beer for lunch and dinner. If you take our competitor's price and our price, and you added on $159 for the alcoholic package, it would still be a good position for Riviera. The bar isn’t a profit center for us. A la carte prices are also incredibly low.
What is Riviera doing in 2020 to support travel agents, especially in the Western U.S.?I know we’ve done something that nobody else has done. We will not take direct bookings from the consumer. This is our position, and we’re very firm on it.
If someone calls us, the first thing we ask is, “Do you have a travel agent?” Usually, the answer’s “no.” We will take the booking, and, based on the geographic area of that consumer, we will hand the booking over to a travel agent who's been working proactively with us. We hand it over at full commission even though we've done the initial work. I can quote many instances where Barbara Sargent, who's the West Coast sales director, has been giving business to agents.
So, what sets us apart? We're the only river cruise company that gives clients to travel agents. We don't steal them, and we don’t market direct. I believe in the distribution system. I always have. That's been my mantra for the 40 years that I’ve been in this business. With Riviera being in a competitive marketplace, I’m hoping that agents will recognize its position and support the river cruise company that supports them.
What else is new in 2020 for Riviera in terms of itineraries and ships?We’ve always offered very immersive itineraries. The traditional itineraries are what they are, but we tweak them. For instance, instead of going roundtrip Lyon on the Provence and Burgundy cruise, we go Lyon to Avignon or Avignon to Lyon. By doing that, you can sail the boats farther up the river to Beaune, France, and actually stay there and get to see the wineries. With our competitors, passengers take a bus ride to get up there for an hour or more.
One of two new itineraries for us this year is The Seine, Paris & Normandy. It’s roundtrip Paris, so it’s easy to get in and out, but the boat is docked overnight in Paris — so it’s like a floating hotel. We sail down the Seine and visit Normandy beaches, and then sail back without duplicating ports.
The other one that is new is Vienna, Bohemia & Treasures of the Danube. It’s a similar philosophy in as much as you’re sailing roundtrip from Vienna. And Vienna is a city like Paris that deserves more than just a stop; it’s really worth spending a couple of days there.
Geoffrey Chaucer is our brand-new ship. She’ll have 88 suites, again from Scylla. We’re going to be launching her in April, and she’ll primarily sail the Danube.
The DetailsRiviera River Cruiseswww.rivierarivercruises.com