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TORONTO — AmaWaterways says it hopes to see North American passengers on its ships by the end of this year, but for now it’s primarily Germans with smattering of Dutch, Belgian and Swiss passengers sailing on the AmaKristina, the river cruise line’s first vessel to set sail post-COVID-19.
Asked if Canadians could get on to other AmaWaterways ships for sailings of their own, AmaWaterways’ executive vice president and co-founder Kristin Karst said the topic had been the subject of much discussion in recent weeks, but unfortunately, the answer so far was no.
“We discussed this, a lot,” said Karst in yesterday’s ‘Inside Look at AmaWaterways: Leading the Way for a River Cruise Comeback’ webinar, open to the trade and media.
“The situation is so fluid and uncertain and we decided not to do that. Canadians have to quarantine for 14 days upon their return, so how many would really want to do it?” she said.
Rudi Schreiner, co-founder and President of AmaWaterways, added that while he’s hopeful Canadian and American travellers will be on the ships before the year is out, realistically he’s looking to spring 2021.
The river cruise line opened up bookings for 2022 earlier this summer, ahead of schedule. Bookings are also coming in for 2021. “June was the strongest month ever for 2021,” said Schreiner. “Some were rebookings but there were also many new bookings.”
Meanwhile AmaKristina set sail post-pandemic on July 5 with a series of charters in Germany for local guests, in collaboration with German tour operator e-hoi. The ship has a full slate of health and safety protocols in place.
A new promotional video available (which can be seen here) from AmaWaterways shows footage of guests wearing masks, practicing social distancing and all the other considerations now seen as the new normal for travel.
“Guests understand that these protocols are for the protection of guests and crew,” says Karst, adding that passenger compliance with the new measures has been excellent. “Everyone wants to be protected. Also the age of river cruisers is more mature, and the older we get, the less we want to face risks.”
She added: “Our world has changed but the rivers continue to flow. Our guests say they’re enjoying a wonderful experience.”
With the exception of the German charters now in operation, AmaWaterways has suspended its sailings until at least Sept. 30.
That said, when travel does open up again, river cruising has long been touted as one of the first most likely to recover. “You are cruising within a country, in local waters, and you’re close to shore,” says Schreiner. There’s an emphasis on access to nature too, with bike rentals and ships with up to 80% balconies. The future of river cruising is “very, very bright,” he says.
AmaWaterways’ marketing and sales outreach for travel agents throughout the pandemic has included Virtual Cruise Nights, Webinar Wednesdays, Sip & Sail Cocktail Hours, inspirational videos and other digital selling tools.
Gary Murphy, AmaWaterways’ co-owner and senior VP of sales, says AmaWaterways remains committed to travel agents, and notes that 100% of the sales and marketing teams’ efforts are focused on the trade. “Travel agents understand how to keep the process moving,” said Murphy. “As Kristin says, we’re planting the seeds now [with marketing messages], so that when the rebound comes – and it will come – travel agents will be ready.”
Murphy has all the confidence in the world in travel agents. “They really match the best product to the right client. We know the best person to be working with are our travel agent partners, because they know where to find clients who are ready to cruise.”
In its 18-year history AmaWaterways has created a fleet of some two dozen ships. Coming next year, the line’s 25th ship, the brand new AmaDahlia, is the star of the newly released 2021/2022 The Secrets of Egypt & The Nile e-brochure.
The 68-passenger ship is already 65% booked, thanks to strong early sales. Karst says AmaDahlia’s staterooms will be “very comfortable, and large in size.”
Schreiner adds that AmaWaterways is currently building three new ships, and even showed a very ground-level sketch of AmaRiva. Without giving too much away, Schreiner said the new ships will emphasize wellness, dining and space. “In the future, there could be fewer passengers on board, and more crew,” he said.