As river cruise lines scrambled over the past couple weeks to rebook and reaccommodate passengers impacted by some of the worst flooding in Central Europe in decades, their focus remained on ensuring customer satisfaction and a good reputation amid crisis.
The challenge has been not just dealing with the logistics of a constantly changing situation but also with the financial fallout: having to reaccommodate and rebook hundreds of passengers as well as the refunds and future cruise credits those passengers are being promised.
And while most river cruise lines acknowledge that the challenge has been great, they all say that the losses are part of doing business on the rivers, and part of maintaining customer loyalty and keeping their reputation intact.
“Our approach is to make the right decisions for our customers — whether conditions necessitated that we cancel or we felt we could operate with modifications — including policies that make it easy to reaccommodate guests on future cruises,” Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways, wrote in an email. “If we make those decisions well, we know that the customers and their agents will come back to us.
“So frankly, the accounting is the last piece of our puzzle,” Clark added.
Avalon canceled eight departures last week and had to make several additional itinerary changes. Most of Avalon’s European fleet was affected in some way by the flooding.
All the river cruise lines offered impacted passengers compensation, usually a full refund for canceled cruises and a $500 credit for a future cruise. Avalon also protected a 10% commission on the canceled cruises as well as full commission on rebookings.
AmaWaterways concurred that it’s part of the business to ensure that passengers are properly accommodated in an uncontrollable situation such as this.
“We don’t want to put any numbers to this; this is part of doing business in river cruising,” said Ama President Rudi Schreiner.
As the line with the most ships on Europe’s rivers, Viking River Cruises also had some of the heaviest juggling to do because of the floods. The company has canceled 13 sailings and modified 25.
“There is a financial impact anytime we have to cancel a sailing,” Richard Marnell, Viking’s senior vice president of marketing, wrote in an email. Nevertheless, Viking, too, is doing its best to offer adequate refund, rebooking and future cruise credit options.
“All in all the cancellations have been managed very well, and the feedback from our guests and travel agent partners has been excellent,” said Guy Young, president of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection. “I certainly think that Uniworld gains a big advantage in these types of situations because we accommodate fewer guests with more staff on our ship.”
Ultimately, how the river cruise lines tackle this difficult task will say as much, if not more, about them as reliable suppliers as how they handle day-to-day operations.