Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

As far as agent relations go, river cruise lines tend to get fairly high marks. For most river cruise lines, the majority of their business comes from the trade, and their appreciation shows in the high commissions (also a byproduct of the high price tag river cruises command), and in their agent-friendly marketing and incentives.

Recently, river cruise lines have continued on the path of further enhancing those relations by forging some new partnerships and through some new initiatives.

For instance, domestic river cruise operator American Queen Steamboat Co. this month announced that it has become an Ensemble Travel Group preferred partner as part of the travel agent network's expansion of its small-ship program.

"We've been closely watching this market segment, especially the domestic river cruise side," stated Libbie Rice, co-president of Ensemble Travel Group.

For its part, the American Queen Steamboat Co. stated that it greatly values its strong relationship with the travel agent community and is thrilled to have partnered with Ensemble.

Of course, this isn't the first time a river cruise line has become a preferred partner of an agency network. With the growing popularity of river cruising in general, consortia and host agencies have for years now been linking up with river cruise lines to form strategic selling pacts. A few examples:

• AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Viking Cruises are all preferred suppliers with Virtuoso.
• AmaWaterways, Aqua Expeditions, Crystal, Tauck, Uniworld and Viking are preferred with Signature Travel Network.
• In addition to the American Queen Steamboat Co., Ensemble has also partnered with AmaWaterways, Avalon, Crystal, Uniworld and Viking.

Overall, river cruise companies have become a much more robust component of agent networks' cruise portfolios.

On the tech side, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection this month added its inventory to Tandem, the Passport Online tool that allows travel agents to search for and book land and cruise products online.   

With the addition of Uniworld and its newly launched U by Uniworld brand, Tandem's portfolio now includes more than 1,400 river cruise itineraries.

According to Jeanne Colombo, vice president of supplier relations for Passport Online, the addition of Uniworld and U by Uniworld comes "with the incredible growth of river cruise and the desire for our travel agency customers to have searchable and bookable content."

Uniworld is not only hoping to make it easier for agents to book its product online, but this month launched a "sell three, sail free" booking incentive for its U by Uniworld brand, a new concept aimed at the next generation of river cruisers.

Intended to help get agents curious about the new product onboard, the promotion is effective now through Sept. 30, during which time travel agents who make at least three new client bookings on any 2018 U by Uniworld voyage will receive a free balcony cabin cruise for themselves on any 2018 or 2019 U by Uniworld cruise.
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