Like all river cruise lines, AmaWaterways has pushed back the start of its 2020 sailing season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So far AmaWaterways is targeting early August. The good news is, in response to early demand, AmaWaterways has also opened group and individual bookings for 2022 sailings a full six months ahead of schedule. All itineraries in France, Portugal, Holland and those travelling the Rhine and Moselle rivers are now open for reservations, with added rewards for guests who book early. The remaining 2022 river cruise voyages with pre- and post-cruise land extensions will be available starting tomorrow, May 20.
AmaWaterways is also hosting a series of popular ‘Sip & Sail’ webinars to keep in touch with its agent partners. “We are working hard for you, so please don’t give up, we certainly will not give up on supporting you,” says Janet Bava, Chief Marketing Officer for AmaWaterways, in this edition of The COVID-19 Questionnaire.
Q. How is morale at AmaWaterways and how is the company handling the crisis?
“Morale is definitely strong at this time. I can tell you the first two weeks of March were the hardest hit for us, but we all came together in a beautiful and inspiring way to say “we got this!” Rudi Schreiner, our co-founder and leader has been incredibly calm and positive throughout. Kristin Karst has also been inspiring, pushing us forward by motivating each and everyone of us and leading by example.
“We have been face forward addressing every challenge that has come our way, answering every phone call, every email, being honest and listening to our travel partners that have been so supportive and at times even emotional. Our travel partners were so patient with us as we transitioned to remote ‘work from home’ operations. We deployed our employees early on, as soon as the governor of California issued the stay at home ordinance. Our employees felt they had our support and have been grateful to us for putting their safety and health first, including their family members. Many have children they now have to homeschool. Others have high-risk family members at home.
“Change is hard, but one thing is certain, it is inevitable during these times and those who accept it, pivot and adapt will come out at the end of this tunnel we are all passing through much stronger. Recently we were awarded in the UK ‘Best Cruise Line Company Employer,’ which could not have come at a better time, tomorrow we will be hosting a remote gathering with our colleagues in the UK office to celebrate. Trying to lift up the spirits. We had many birthday celebrations in the month of April, including Rudi, Kristin and Gary. So the employees all over the world have enjoyed logging in remotely and being part of celebrations and greetings, raising our glasses and being grateful. Finding the positive in every day that we are blessed with.”
Q. What do you think travel will look like post-COVID 19?
“We meet on a daily basis with leadership from around the world and we ask ourselves this question every day. This is what inspires us and keeps us motivated to keep pushing forward as everything just feels in a halt.
“We are planning for a gradual operation restart, since every country is recovering differently and at their own pace. We will find those areas that are safest and most disciplined in the recovery operations and collaborate with the suppliers to spark travel in the safest way possible. Our leaders have been leading the way in river cruising since the very beginning and have strong relationships with local infrastructures and will only operate if they know we can deliver the exceptional experience that AmaWaterways is known for.
“Since river cruising is an intimate experience with and average of 156 passengers per ship and sailing through the cities in the region, we do not have the risks of sailing through international waters. We are parked in a city each day, sometimes multiple cities per day very near proximity to hospital care. Because we have a wide range of shore excursion activities and options for our guests, we have smaller group tour sizes. Heightened safety, health & sanitation protocols across the travel experience will be expected by all travellers yearning to see the world again.
“It will not be about price, instead about trust in the brand and product that can deliver the best experience, from the selling transaction with the travel advisor and their client, the best and most flexible policies, the safest & most prepared. In summary, the brands that exceed expectations and can provide peace of mind for all will come out first.”
Q. What do you think will rebound most quickly, and what might take some time?
“I am really excited to see the innovation and transformation that will come from this experience. The most innovative, forward thinking brands & product will take advantage of every point in time. Rebound can happen even before people start travelling and I’m excited to see those brands like AmaWaterways that create the level of confidence to start generating bookings and gaining market share once again.
“The most rewarding for us has been, those who cancelled prior to us announcing suspensions in March due to uncertainty are now coming back and booking again. We are starting to see a glimpse of this, before we know it, we will all enjoy this at a broader scale.
“Travel within country/continent will rebound first, followed closely by air, boutique hotel & luxury river. When it comes to ocean cruising, expedition will be a great option. Family & Group travel will be a key business driver for travel advisors. Those who are a bit slower now, should consider selling group business, learning the skill if they have not done a group in the past as people will want to travel together but in a more intimate setting and environment.
“Although large mass-market cruise lines are expected to have toughest time rebounding, I am certain they will definitely come back in due time. There are avid cruisers that cannot wait for the great deals they will be able to enjoy from their favourite ocean cruise brand.”
Q. What new destinations are you really excited about for when this is over, and ideally where will your own first trip be?
“So this year, my bucket list consisted of doing a Rhine River cruise sailing through France, Germany, Netherlands & Switzerland in the fall (November) or doing a Christmas Market cruise on the Danube. I was so lucky to experience the AmaMagna on the Danube river last summer and during my 7-night journey everyone kept planning their next trip wanting to return and do the same itinerary during Christmas festivities to really get fully immersed in the variety of experiences an AmaWaterways river cruise can deliver. I really could not get enough of cities like Budapest & Vienna and small town charm from cities like Melk and Salzburg, so I am excited to experience the difference between summer and Christmas Market season.
“Being still rather new compared to the majority of my colleagues with longer tenure and experience in all of river cruises in Europe, Asia and Africa, I feel obliged to check off every recommendation provided by my colleagues, travel advisors and our guests who constantly engage and rave about across our social media channels. I am also looking forward to returning to the Captivating Rhine River, as the first time I did this itinerary was in the winter months for our annual Global Summit. I recall being in meetings onboard the beautiful AmaKristina, looking out the floor to ceiling glass windows as we sailed through all the historic sites and castles, rich with history and charm dreaming of returning on holiday with my husband.”
Q. What do you like most, and least, about working from home?
“I love being with my two boys at home. As a working mom, I spend hours at the office or travelling for work. The boys are usually busy with school, homework and activities. Taking a break from my home office and eating lunch together with my husband and kids or being home for dinners are a wonderful thing about working remotely.
“I do miss my colleagues very much. We have a very positive, productive and fun working environment at headquarters and I truly miss seeing everyone each day, small talk during hallway walks, going out to lunch to our favourite local restaurants and ordering in on days where we have back to back meetings.”
Q. The travel industry is showing its strength and resilience as it rallies to take on the unprecedented impact from the coronavirus pandemic. What message do you want to get out to Canadian travel agents?
“Stay positive. Stay motivated. Focus on the things you never got around to doing because you were so busy day to day. Work on your website, online digital presence, polish up your social media skills or write those blogs you have been meaning to document from all your previous travel experiences. Learn and educate yourself with the new tools suppliers are providing you during these times. Our teams have been working hard on providing tutorials on building co-branded websites, group toolkits, our weekly webinars are a hit and the advisors and agency owners love our content, they give us feedback and we perfect it and expand each week. We are working hard for you, so please don’t give up, we certainly will not give up on supporting you.”