River companies enhance agent education, incentives

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American Queen Steamboat Company's American Queen.
American Queen Steamboat Company's American Queen.

When the American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) unveiled a travel agent certification program this week called the Steamboat Academy, it became the latest river cruise line to provide agents with more and enhanced selling tools and incentives.  

The Steamboat Academy consists of six courses including an introduction to AQSC, a course on each of the company's three U.S. river vessels, one on shore excursions and one on group reservations. Once agents successfully pass a quiz following each course they will be designated a Steamboat Academy certified agent. 

"Travel agents crave product knowledge to help build their confidence, resulting in increased sales," AQSC president Ted Sykes said in a statement about the new certification program.

River cruise lines have always relied heavily on agent support and sales, and have provided them with ample resources to sell their product. But as the market becomes more diverse, complex and competitive, lines are upping their commitments to agents in an effort to better prove their devotion to the trade.

Joni Rein, vice president of U.S. sales and marketing at Scenic, said that the river cruise brand recently overhauled its entire agent training program in an effort to better help agents understand the segment overall, as well as the differences between the river cruise lines.

And, earlier this year, U by Uniworld, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's new millennial river cruise river brand, created a contest for travel agents to gain an exclusive spot on an invitation-only preview sailing, which took place last month. The line decided to have some fun with agent engagement, inviting agents aged 21 to 45 to create 30-second videos about how they would sell U by Uniworld, which they posted to social media. Like many suppliers, Uniworld recognized that one of the best ways to have agents help sell the product is to have them experience it themselves first.

"Travel agents have always been an integral part of our sales strategy and research has demonstrated that millennials increasingly seek experts to help plan their travel experiences," Ellen Bettridge, CEO of Uniworld, said in a release.

To that end, U by Uniworld this week announced that in addition to (and due to the "overwhelming success" of) that initial preview cruise, it has added eight agent FAM sailings in 2018 on its Seine, Danube and Rhine itineraries.

The departures, in April, May, August and October 2018, have been removed from the U by Uniworld website and will not be part of the regular U cruise 2018 lineup. They will be instead dedicated to travel agents at 60% below the published fares.

AmaWaterways, too, upon receiving ASTA's 2017 River Cruise Line Partner of the Year award earlier this year, noted that it has invested significantly in travel agent training and field support. For example, AmaWaterways said it hosts more than 30 of what it calls "seminars on the river" each year, which give agents the opportunity to experience the product while also learning about it firsthand.

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