TORONTO — The river cruise experience is distinct from the ocean cruise experience and especially these days, clients need to be aware of the differences, say river cruise BDMs.
Five BDMs from competing river cruise lines including AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Emerald Waterways, Uniworld and Viking joined forces for a River Cruising town hall webinar event yesterday, one that delivered key messages and selling points to the trade amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cruise lines – both ocean and river – are working overtime to hammer out their health and safety protocols going forward but few details have been made public yet. What is known, say the BDMs, is the long list of differentiators between river and ocean cruising. “Knowledge is power,” says Neil Dudley, AmaWaterways’ BDM for Central and Eastern Canada. “Everyone can become a river cruise expert.”
And at least in the short term, knowing the advantages to the river cruise onboard experience could mean crucial sales in this extremely challenging time. “We really do feel that river cruising is going to bounce back a lot quicker than our ocean cruising cousins,” said Dudley. “Make sure your clients are aware of the differences.”
Jared Gelfand, BDM, Western Ontario for Scenic and Emerald Waterways, notes that “if you have ocean cruise clients, it’s an easy conversion” to river cruising. “Also escorted tour clients.”
Hilary Brown, BDM, Toronto GTA and East for Avalon Waterways, highlighted aspects of river cruise product that are especially attractive to travellers looking for safety and security on their trip in a post-pandemic world. The ports of call are quaint small cities and towns, the excursions are with small group sizes, and there’s no tendering into port, said Brown.
She also asked agents to think about a football field, “and picture that field filled with 3,000 passengers, versus 150 passengers.” While river cruise ships are much smaller than ocean cruise ships, there is a space factor advantage to river cruising, she said.
Adds Dudley: “We were social distancing even before it was cool.”
Cruises, both ocean and river, are already selling well for 2021. “Bookings are strong for 2021 and not just rebookings. A lot of them are new customers,” says Federico Berardinucci, BDM, Eastern Canada for Uniworld. Agents will want to take advantage of the momentum for 2021, he adds. “People are going to want to break free from the year they missed out on.”
The BDMs went through the list of operations suspensions and potential re-start dates for their respective cruise lines.
AmaWaterways is currently suspended until the end of July. With European borders opening and travel restrictions in that part of the world loosening, AmaWaterways is expecting to operate select cruising in August. “We don’t foresee August being a full suspension,” says Dudley.
Avalon Waterways is working with an end-of-August date, and currently open for sales from Sept. 1 onward.
Emerald Waterways is also looking at the end of August, and “fully expects to be back up and running in September,” says Gelfand.
Uniworld is working towards end-of-July, and Viking River Cruises, the end of August.
All five BDMs urged agents to reach out to them for any support they might need. And agents should be reaching out to clients too, says Brown. “Pick up the phone, reach out to your clients and just let them know you’re there for them,” she says, adding, “we’re here to help you with absolutely anything. Don’t let that sale get away. Get them dreaming again.”