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“River cruising continues to grow at an unprecedented rate,” said Michelle Fee, founder and CEO of Cruise Planners (CP), an American Express Travel Representative, at the company’s 2018 convention.
In fact, following a very successful 2017, Cruise Planners has seen a 55 percent sales growth in the river cruise segment, compared to a total sales growth of 20 percent overall.
Business continues to look up for 2019. On site to share in CP’s good fortune were AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Crystal River Cruises, Emerald Waterways, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, Tauck, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Viking, and each had representatives speak about their wares.
Alex Pinelo, vice president of national accounts for AmaWaterways, was up first. He applauded the segment’s overall success before evoking cheers from the crowd with his claim that “we don’t work with Costco.”
“You know what, there’s not a bad river cruise company out there,” he said, focusing on camaraderie among competitors. “We all deliver great products.”
Specific to the line for this year will be the launch of the highly anticipated AmaMagna — a riverboat that is twice as wide as most others in the market and capable of offering more amenities — as well as AmaDouro and AmaMora. Plus, the rollout of its trending wellness program will be fleet-wide by 2019.
As for Avalon Waterways, Kristen Steele, the brand’s director of key partners, touted the line’s expansive suite windows and beds that face the view. Bringing the outside balcony in with a room that goes all the way to the perimeter is a design concept recently mimicked at sea on Celebrity Cruises’ latest ship, Celebrity Edge. The line is also innovating with flex dining in 2019 so that guests can eat anytime between 7 and 8:30 p.m.
No doubt, Viking has become ubiquitous all around the world, but Michele Saegesser, the company’s vice president of sales and national accounts, pointed out that Egypt has been particularly hot for the line. She also attributes Viking’s success to staying focused on its 55-plus target market. Several other companies may be multigenerational, but Viking is exclusively for adults.
“I want to thank Viking because they have introduced river cruising,” said Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, renewing the congenial atmosphere. “And now I’m taking the opportunity to introduce luxury river cruising.”
Emphasizing fresh hardware, the entire Uniworld fleet will be fully rejuvenated and updated to Super Ship status over the next five years. She also briefly promoted U by Uniworld as its young-at-heart sister label, now available to adults of all ages.
You know what, there’s not a bad river cruise company out there.
Tauck, on the other hand, is not only kid-friendly but also conducive to solo travelers. Katharine Bonner, senior vice president of river and small-ship cruising for Tauck, explained that entry-level cabins on every sailing are available with no single supplement. Additionally, the line is focused on the destination — providing guests active and exclusive experiences in port — and its inclusive purpose-built ships. When refurbishing riverboats, Tauck removes cabins to make individual accommodations larger and the overall vessel capacity smaller. For 2020, it will construct a new vessel for the Douro River.
Crystal River Cruises also discussed its take on luxury cruising.
“When Crystal came into the river cruise business, we decided to introduce an entirely new standard of river cruising,” said Walter Littlejohn, vice president and managing director of Crystal River Cruises.
Setting Crystal apart from other brands are attentive crew members such as butlers, sommeliers and doorman greeters, as well as a completely all-inclusive experience featuring Michelin-inspired, a-la-minute cuisine, 24-hour room service and more.
Also differentiating his products from the competition was Rob Huffman, vice president of trade sales USA for Scenic and Emerald Waterways. While the former is recognized for its value proposition, it also features inclusions — such as gratuities and airport transfers — that some companies do not. Scenic, on the other hand, is all-inclusive, save for salon and spa services. Its ships serve guests snacks throughout the day beyond just cookies at a dedicated cafe, and they offer extensive excursion choices as well as self-guided interactive tour devices.