Last week, another recognizable brand entered the river cruise market: National Geographic.


The company partnered with Scenic to offer several Nat Geo-branded river cruises in 2018.

It's not the first time a brand that previously had nothing (or very little) to do with river cruising has gotten in on the river cruising action.

Last year, it was Disney that made a big splash when it began offering its first Adventures by Disney departures on AmaWaterways vessels. And sure, some of these partnerships revolve around these non-river cruise companies simply seizing an opportunity to get in on a major growth segment of the travel industry.

But their entry into the river cruise market is actually doing more than just spreading the wealth. It is also helping river cruise lines establish stronger independent identities and to better differentiate themselves from one another, which has been one of the bigger challenges in selling and marketing river cruises over the years.

Many consumers are aware of river cruising, but they aren't often clear about how the river cruise lines differ. As someone who is often asked what makes each line different or unique from the others, I must admit that at times it has been difficult to explain the seemingly nuanced distinctions.

Brand associations certainly make that positioning easier to identify. Now that AmaWaterways has partnered with Disney, for instance, many people associate the river cruise company with being more kid-, family- and group-friendly.

National Geographic often partners with luxury adventure companies such as Lindblad and Mountain Travel Sobek. Its audience is often well read, well traveled and well heeled. So those are some of the identifiers that will likely be attributed to Scenic now, too.

And river cruise lines have been differentiating in other ways, too. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection this year introduced its millennial-focused U by Uniworld brand. The main Uniworld brand had become known for its over-the-top upscale river cruise ships and now U by Uniworld is looking to be known as the line for younger travelers ages 21 to 45.

This year, Avalon Waterways invested in TV ads that focus on the company's "Active Discovery" program, which emphasizes experiential travel with a focus on hiking, biking and other engaging activities, perhaps in an effort to become known as the river cruise line for the health and wellness seeking set.

Whatever the approach, whether through new brand partnerships or other marketing tactics, all of the ways in which river cruise lines are looking to better define what and who they are, and how that makes them different from the others, benefits the consumer trying to find the right river cruise; the travel seller hoping to match the right river cruise to the right client; and ultimately, the river cruise lines attracting passengers that best fit their product.
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