When river cruising first starting growing in popularity, it was widely considered a vacation that was primarily geared toward an older segment.
It's a perception that lingers. When Suzy Schreiner of Azure Blue Vacations in Seattle hosted a panel at Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld event last week called Demystifying River Cruising, the age stigma was among the questions advisors asked her about.
"In the early days of river cruising, the thought was that it was so relaxed, it really only appealed to those who were later on in years and (perhaps) less active," she told me later. "Much has changed, though, and the river cruise companies have really raised the bar with options to attract young guests and those who wish to have a cultural, yet active experience."
Schreiner pointed to the companies have that diversified their portfolio of offerings over the last several years to attract guests in their 20s and 40s. She noted Avalon Waterways' Active & Discovery itineraries, which focus on active excursions like kayaking and cycling, along with popular cultural experiences such as cooking classes, and U by Uniworld's specific branding for the younger segment and its offerings of high-energy and active excursions, onboard mixology classes, yoga on the sun deck, "all with the youthful traveler in mind."
She also touted the still nascent but growing market of family river cruises, and she speaks from experience. A year ago, she and her husband took her two daughters, who were 13 and 14, on an Avalon Active and Discovery cruise on the Avalon Impression. While some lines only cater to adults and others have minimum ages, usually about 12, some allow children as young as 4.
"River cruising is a terrific option for multigenerational travel and families," she said. "The key is to qualify your clients as to their expectations, activity level and interests.
"The families market continues to grow and will be a popular choice for families who would like a rich cultural experience coupled with the ease of cruising. AmaWaterways offers tours based on your activity level, such as hiking or fast-pace walking tours for those that are more active and easier options for those who enjoy a more leisurely pace. Plus, with many of their vessels offering connecting cabins, they make river cruising very attractive to families."
Schreiner is a big proponent of selling groups of all kinds on river cruises, not just families, because the group size threshold is much smaller than on most ocean cruises.
"Many of the river cruise companies will start TCs for as little as five cabins at double occupancy," she said, a reference to the "tour conductor" cabin provided gratis to a group leader. "This means that your groups can be made up of affinity groups such as wine clubs and social networks as well as simply booking a few friends on an adventure together."
When Americans can finally travel again, she encourages advisors to home in on this market.
"As Europe opens up for tourism, people will be wanting to do two things: they will want to go on vacation and they will want to reconnect with their friends," she said. "This is a great opportunity to sell groups for clients who wish to vacation with friends or family and have fun together."