A new “less materialistic, more experiential” potential river cruise customer – who is willing to spend more on luxury holidays – is on the rise in the UK, according to APT’s Debra Fox.

The so-called ‘Next Economic Order’ (NEO) wants the “path less travelled” and to be able to “brag” about their holiday experiences to friends.

APT chief commercial officer Fox said despite NEOs making up only 25% of the UK population, 60% of all discretionary spend was coming from the cohort.

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“Last year, the NEO overtook the traditional [customer] in the amount of money they spend on discretionary experiential things – wine, travel and food,” she said.

At the Clia River Cruise Conference in Amsterdam, Fox urged 250 agent delegates: “Don’t talk about the price, talk about experience. Talk to ‘traditionals’ about the price. They want it safe and conservative. The rise of luxury is the rise of NEO.”


However, she admitted that while Brexit had affected customer confidence in the UK this year, people were “getting tired” of the continuing uncertainty over when Britain would leave the European Union.

“In the last six weeks, we have seen Europe river cruise take off again,” she said. “Once Brexit is over and done with and they will back in no time at all. People just want to travel.”

Following Fox’s decision to allow television cameras on to an APT vessel and film Australian reality show Travel Guides earlier this year, she called on the industry to be “disruptive”.

The move paid off after the show’s participants gave their river cruise experience top marks. “You have got to be disruptive if you want to change people’s beliefs,” she said. “[The episode] scored five out five and it was the only episode to have ever achieved that.

“We did not do that for APT, we did that on behalf of the industry, and everyone because together we can be better.”

APT had seen that once a customer had tried a river cruise for the first time they would likely sail three more times in their life on average, Fox added.

And on celebrity partnerships, Fox issued a warning. She said: “I am not a big fan of slapping a celebrity on and thinking it will sell. It does not.”

However, if the celebrity was right for the brand, the partnership would boost sales. Currently, APT has two partnerships with chefs Luke Nguyen and Jonty Torode.

“[A partnership] is the perfect story for the travel consultants to take hold of and sell,” she added.