River lines pitch agents in CruiseWorld session

FORT LAUDERDALE — A group of river cruise line executives took to the stage at CruiseWorld for the first time, and they were joined by two travel advisors who asked them to “pitch” potential client opportunities on their respective lines.

Christen Perry, owner of Classic Travel Connection in Birmingham, Ala. and Suzy Schreiner, owner of Azure Blue Vacations in Seattle, both members of Global Travel Marketplace’s Advisory Board, presented five river cruise executives with various scenarios during the session, titled Pitch Perfect: Sell the CruiseWorld Audience Live.

The topics they discussed included how the river lines host groups; how an advisor might charter an entire river boat; and accessibility on board — all aimed at helping the audience learn how to distinguish which river cruise line is best for which customer.

For example, a scenario broached by Perry was: many travel advisors aren’t experienced in river cruising, but they are experienced ocean cruisers. Their clients are also experienced ocean cruisers. How can the advisor best transition the client to river cruising?

Alex Pinelo, vice president of sales for AmaWaterways, said that’s a question he frequently fields, as he spent most of his career working for Norwegian Cruise Line. He boiled down the biggest difference between the two to a simple answer: “Ocean cruises take you to the destination. They take you to the destination, and they take over the destination  And when you cruise on river, you cruise to the destination and you become a part of the destination.”

With river ships that carry a small number of passengers, Pinelo said, it’s easier to get immersed in a destination.

Ann Chamberlin, vice president of sales for Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, said that ocean lines should be credited for attracting new passengers, who then become perfect candidates for river cruising. She encouraged advisors to use their ocean-ship experience to better qualify their client (e.g. what did they like, what didn’t they like), and explain the more relaxed nature of river cruising.

“There’s such a relaxation as to the ease of coming on and off the [river] ships,” added Ana Parodi, director of national accounts for Viking River Cruises.

Parodi also encouraged advisors to suggest a river cruise to clients who stay in five-star hotels.

Like Pinelo, Kristian Anderson, executive vice president of global sales for Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, offered some simple advice: “Remember this: Ocean sails to it, river sales through it.”

Session moderator Mary Pat Sullivan also jumped into the discussion. Because Avalon Waterways has both a land-based component and river cruising, Sullivan asked vice president Paula Hayes a similar question: when you have a client that travels with tour operators or prefers land-based vacations, when should you recommend a river cruise?

River cruising is a great option for clients who often travel with tour operators, because they already enjoy traveling with smaller groups, Hayes said, adding, “it’s been a great source of business for us.”

But 80% of Avalon’s clients come from ocean cruising, and are attracted to river cruising for a similar reason: they only have to unpack once.

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