Partner a river operator and sell the experiences and destinations, says Phil Nuttall, MD of The Cruise Village

The key thing we learnt from last week’s Clia River Cruise Conference is not that you apparently need a £20,000 annual social media budget to be successful selling river, but simply that river cruising offers incredible value for money.

As travel agents and homeworkers, we all have clients who have yet to discover the joys of a holiday along the rivers of Europe and farther afield.

The river cruise lines have invested huge sums of money in vessels that can take our clients into the heart of cities, navigate low-water rivers into the heart of Africa’s wildlife territories and sail along the tributaries of the Mekong.

Some lines this year ran a series of cruises on the Po River in Italy, traditionally a problematic waterway to navigate due to low water levels, but such is the desire to introduce new itineraries, the boatyards are becoming increasingly innovative in their designs.

With new ship designs making more destinations reachable, a new era of soft adventure holidays is developing right in front of your eyes and you have to act now and embrace it, share it and sell it. This is notwithstanding the popularity of the Rhine and the Danube, which together command the lion’s share of river cruise holidays and will do for many years to come.

Clia crucial

I realised this year just how important Clia, the cruise industry association, is to our industry. Without it, agents would never get the opportunity to see first-hand so many river cruise boats, experience its hospitality, listen and learn about their USPs and, most importantly, meet the people who are key decision-makers and have the ability to make a difference to our businesses.

Without this unity among operators and agents, you have to ask yourself how our industry would function. I realise this is a huge statement, but I know there would be less opportunity for smaller agents, homeworkers and entrepreneurs to be creative with high‑ticket‑price experiences.

Agents are the lifeblood of an industry that I am proud to champion. I urge the agent community to find an operator partner you have an emotional connection with, either because you have cruised with them or they offer itineraries that excite you, and start promoting river cruising to your customers. Most river cruise lines are able to provide the full package including flights and transfers, so the only real obstacle to selling is product knowledge. Clia now has a section online dedicated to river cruising and this has to be your first port of call.

If you do not embrace this now, there is a danger that with the increases in capacity and the softness of the US market in Europe, vultures will circle.

Ocean waves

It would be a disaster for the river cruise industry if it were to emulate the ocean sector’s experiences of recent years with price wars and a later booking pattern. Early booking and brand awareness will keep this industry in fine fettle, with repeat business and customers always planning ahead for their next river cruise holiday.

Devalue this product at your peril because it would take years to recover. Sell on the experiences and destinations, otherwise others will reap the opportunity to sell on price.