Crystal River Cruises’ boss has implored agents to turn their focus away from repeat customers to new clients to boost their business.

Speaking at the Clia River Cruise Conference in Amsterdam on Sunday (November 10), Walter Littlejohn compared the river sector to where ocean was more than 20 years ago, adding that the market would become more segmented as it matured.

Addressing agents directly, the line’s vice president and managing director said: “When we think about repeat customers, we are going to be enticed to keep marketing to them and selling them the same destinations.

“You do not want to go for the crumbs, you want to go for the whole cake. There are the repeat customers and the people that have not been on a river cruise before.

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“The gold, the platinum and the lithium are the people that have not been on a river cruise before.”

In particular, Littlejohn urged agents to target families who meet up and go on holiday once a year.

Littlejohn said the river cruise market was in its “infancy”.

“If you made a focus on ocean cruising in 1996, you would have seen your business triple or even quadruple as well. Do the same for river cruising because you are getting into it at its infancy,” he said.

Littlejohn, who worked previously as a travel agent in the US, said the trade across the Atlantic had reported introducing customers to cruise by booking them on a river sailing.

“In North America, there are number of travel agents who are turning people who refuse-to-cruise on to river cruise,” he said. “They will point out to them there is no problem of motion discomfort and you will always see land on a river cruise.”

However, Littlejohn said around 42% of Crystal River Cruises’ customers have previously sailed on the company’s ocean vessels.

He also added that market segmentation was becoming “a new thing”.

“[Cruise lines] do not want to offer the same things,” he said. “We want to offer different experiences and then we can attract different markets.

“For river cruise, we are more like a boutique hotel, than a resort. Many customers have done small hotel experiences.”

Littlejohn added that cruise lines would follow wider trends – such as health and wellness; sustainability; solo travellers; and themed cruises – which were adaptable and relevant going forward.