HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The popularity of river cruises shows no signs of abating, according to travel agents at Global Travel Marketplace here.

River cruises have caught the imagination of the client and are a lucrative sale for agents, said Jackie Vernon, a CruiseOne franchise owner in Green Bay, Wis.

Personalized service is another hallmark of river cruises. For Steve Lincoln, owner of Lincoln Travel, in Bridgewater, Va., that was brought home after his flight for a recent European river cruise was delayed by four hours.

When his tardy flight arrived, a limousine hired by AMA Waterways was waiting, as was a welcome bottle of champagne in his stateroom with a note signed by AMA’s executive vice president and co-owner, Kristin Karst.

Vernon and Lincoln were two of more than 100 agents attending Global Travel Marketplace, a three-day conference hosted by Northstar Travel Media, the parent company of Travel Weekly.

The conference brings together an invitation-only list of top-producing agents with a diverse group of suppliers ranging from airlines and cruise lines to tour operators, destinations and technology firms.

The heart of the conference is a series of one-on-one meetings between agents and suppliers, each lasting seven minutes. Suppliers also make small group presentations between appointment sessions.

The host hotel, the Diplomat Resort and Spa, has changed hands since last year’s event and is now one of the first to be part of Hilton Worldwide’s new Curio collection.

Owned since October by Thayer Lodging Group, the 998-room former Westin will receive over $100 million in improvements over the next two years, sales and marketing director Jim Curtis said.

Each agent invited to Global Travel Marketplace must sell at least $1 million of travel.

“We definitely have some very successful travel agents here,” said Alicia Evanko-Lewis, senior vice president of events for Northstar’s travel group, adding that the agents were selected from 832 applicants and represent about $150 million in annual travel sales.

Speakers scheduled at the conference included Norwegian Cruise Line President Andy Stuart and Amanda Horan, head of international leisure sales for Failte Ireland, the country’s national tourism development authority.


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