At Think Tank, agents debate moving clients from oceans to rivers

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Agents give their input on selling river cruises to their ocean cruise clients in Wednesday night’s Think Tank.
Agents give their input on selling river cruises to their ocean cruise clients in Wednesday night’s Think Tank. Photo Credit: Creative Focus

FORT LAUDERDALE -- If anyone knows how to get clients to shift from ocean cruises to river cruises, Joni Rein may be the one.

Rein, the vice president of U.S. sales and marketing for Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours was, until two years ago, vice president of sales at Carnival Cruise Line, a force in ocean cruising.

Rein fielded questions from about 200 agents at the Think Tank symposium at Cruise World.

Helen Crawford, an independent affiliate of CWT Vacations in Dalton, Ga., said the biggest challenge in moving from ocean to river is overcoming concerns about when high or low water on the rivers disrupts the cruise.

"A lot of people are disappointed when they're bused instead of 'rivered,'" Crawford said. "So you really have to understand the weather in Europe."

"Your point is quite valid," Rein said. There was significant high water on the European rivers two years ago. "Many of the river cruise suppliers, including ourselves, didn't handle that very well," she said.

Scenic has since introduced a guarantee with a cash refund component for delays or cancellations from abnormal water levels, Rein said. "You should tell that to your clients," she said.

Agent Charla Savage of C&S Tours in Columbia, S.C., said she felt river cruises are more relaxing for her and her clients. "Ocean ships are larger and I feel overstimulated," she said. "When I get on that ship I want to do everything."

Savage said she gives herself permission to sit and read on a river cruise, an idea Rein endorsed.

But Sandy Elson, the owner of Your Cruise Concierge in Bethesda, Md., said the ocean-river transition isn't really a heavy lift.

"They want something more intimate than the 6,000 passenger ships as they get older," she said of her clients. "Advertising for several of the lines is very appealing. Some [clients] come to me and say, 'I saw it on TV.' It's a very easy sell."

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