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Travel agents and cruise lines are reporting that the percentage of river cruisers booking pre- and post-cruise land segments in Europe is growing quickly, creating a strong sales opportunity for savvy travel agents.
Beth Levich, owner of Cruise Holidays in Portland, Ore., said she sells pre- and post-cruise land packages to almost all of her river cruise clients, advising them to see as much of Europe as possible given the long flight time from the western U.S.
She focuses on creating unique experiences for her clients on land. For example, when Levich booked a river cruise for a group of Dragon Boat rowers who ended up spending time in Paris and Avignon before their cruise, she set them up to compete against another Dragon Boat team on Lake Annecy.
“If you can’t create a special experience for your clients, what good are you?” Levich asked.
On sites such as Cruise Critic, travelers debate the advantages of buying the cruise lines’ pre- and post-cruise packages (turnkey ease and meeting other cruisers) versus making independent land arrangements (more choice of small boutique hotels and lower prices). While the cruise lines are reporting ever-increasing pre- and post-cruise land packages, it’s clear from travelers’ posts on Cruise Critic and other websites that a substantial number of guests buy their land extensions elsewhere.
Viking River Cruises has seen a steady increase in the number of guests buying land extensions directly from the cruise line. Now, more than 40 percent of guests book a land extension from Viking. In response, the company is expanding its land offerings with the addition of six new land program destinations this year, including Krakow, Poland, and The Hague in the Netherlands.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection reported a surge in land package purchases this year. Wesley Bosnic, senior vice president of revenue management and strategic development for the brand, attributes the increase in land bookings to Uniworld’s new French cruises in Bordeaux and the anniversary of D-Day.
The increase in interest in extended land stays may be related to a trend toward shorter seven-night river cruises, according to Rudi Schreiner, president and co-founder of AmaWaterways. Over the past 10 years, Schreiner said he’s seen a shift toward seven-night river cruises coupled with pre- and post-cruise land stays rather than 14-night cruises.
“Currently, 60 to 70 percent of guests are booked on our pre- or post-cruise extensions,” he added.
Some travel agents said the land extensions offered by river cruise lines are comparatively better than those offered by seagoing cruise lines, for both clients and agents.
“The ocean lines charge ridiculous prices [for land extensions],” said one travel agent who asked not to be identified. “But the river cruise lines offer reasonably priced packages, and the seamless service they give my clients, as well as the chance to spend time with other guests who are on the same sailing, make them a good choice.”
In some cases, river cruise sailings come with a built-in land package.
“Most of our river cruises already feature an included land stay, usually two nights at the beginning or end of the itinerary,” said Katharine Bonner, Tauck’s vice president of river and small-ship cruising. “A number of cruises include both pre- and post-cruise stays.”
The line also offers repeat guests a Gift of Time, which is an additional complimentary stay for one night before or after the cruise. Bonner said about 70 percent of Tauck’s guests book a pre- or post-cruise stay, with the majority opting for one or two nights before sailing to adjust to the time change.
Avalon Waterways is also seeing an increase in the number of passengers who are choosing a departure that includes some land content. According to Patrick Clark, Avalon’s managing director, half of the line’s 2014 departures include land extensions, and more departures will include a land portion in 2015. Guests also book additional land packages with Avalon. Clark said demand is strongest on the upper Danube (Prague, Vienna, Munich and Budapest), lower Danube (Bucharest and Istanbul), Rhone (Paris and Cote d’Azur), Moselle/Main (Paris and Prague) and Rhine (Amsterdam and Zurich).
However the arrangements are made, land extensions to river cruises are increasing in popularity as airfares soar. Once a client decides to travel internationally for a European river cruise, visiting destinations along the rivers along with cities further inland is nearly irresistible.