Cruise body held its seventh annual river forum last weekend. Harry Kemble reports from Amsterdam

Hawke calls on agents to ‘only support Clia lines’

Travel agents must back Clia member cruise lines and return the support the organisation has shown to them, deputy chairman Giles Hawke has urged.

Opening the Clia River Cruise Conference in Amsterdam, Hawke revealed agents sold more than a third of the total river cruises in 2016 and that the sector was one of the fastest-growing in the travel industry.

Addressing almost 300 delegates, Hawke said: “I have a plea for all agents: as Clia members we invest a huge amount of time and energy in training and supporting you.

“Our focus is on travel agents selling more cruise. Might I make a plea that when you go back to your shops, offices and places of work, you only support Clia cruise lines.

“It would be nice to see that support reciprocated. Please support Clia cruise lines because we are doing everything we can to support you.”

Hawke, who is also chief executive of Avalon Waterways UK and Cosmos, hailed river cruise lines for their “constant innovation” and the speed at which new milestones are reached.

He added: “Things can happen quickly, from building ships, to redesigning what happens inside, to launching new brands and to redeploying as required.”

According to the latest Clia figures, for 2016, UK river cruise passenger numbers grew by 11% on UK sailings, 145% in Europe and 22% across non-European destinations. Hawke described this as “significant” growth and said he had “no doubt 2017 will be greater” still.

He said: “A lot has happened in the last year. New ships have hit the market, growth has been unabated in the river cruise market and we are proving more and more popular for agents to be selling.”

However, he admitted the industry “still had a job to do” to explain what river cruising is all about to potential customers.

“Contrary to what some of my non-travel friends think, river cruising isn’t ‘barge holidays’,” he said, adding: “We have fantastic luxury products.

“Those of you which have big cruise databases have a massive opportunity to convert your customers to try river cruise.

“We know the satisfaction rate in river cruising is extremely high.”

‘Target Asia cruises at fitter customers’

Pandaw’s Marco Rosa said agents should target younger or “fitter” passengers for long‑haul river cruising in Asia.

The Asian river cruise line’s sales vice-president said: “Asia is quite vast. [Our sailings] cover a much shorter distance but there is more focus on the excursions. It is quite a packed itinerary each day. It is a much more active holiday.”

He said he had found that passengers on river sailings in Vietnam, Laos, China and Myanmar were generally aged between 30 and 60 years old.

“The age group is younger [than European river cruises],” he added. “You are looking for customers that are fitter.

“There is more interaction with the local community. It is a good product for families.”

Uniworld tips its U brand to succeed despite ‘light’ sales

The boss of Uniworld said she is confident its new youth river cruise brand will be a “success” despite admitting UK bookings had been “light”.

The luxury river cruise line launched U by Uniworld earlier this year exclusively for 21-45-year-olds. It features pub crawls during overnight stops, later breakfast times and onboard silent discos on its sailings on the Seine, Danube and Rhine.

Earlier this month Uniworld announced it had taken eight of its U by Uniworld sailings on its ships The A and The B off general sale to offer places on board to agents of all ages to showcase the product.

President and chief executive Ellen Bettridge said: “I have got two ships doing this and to make [the concept] work I need 7,000 passengers next year, which is not that many. I think it is going to be pretty easy to make this a success.

“I think that the word has just got out about the product. I think this is an incredible opportunity.

“Bookings have been light [from the UK]. I think there are a lot of people watching us and seeing if this is going to work or not.”

After her keynote speech at the conference, Bettridge told Travel Weekly she was not worried about UK bookings for U by Uniworld.

She added: “Things are just getting started, so I am not surprised that they are light. We are rocking and rolling now.

“The biggest question I have had is ‘I need to see this product, I need to understand this product to sell it’. Last week we opened up these eight sailings to agents, so take your chance and go for it.”

Bettridge also said two new ships, The C and The D, were being planned.

Hawke hails innovative brand and C5 show

U by Uniworld has been praised by Clia for “appealing to a totally different demographic” by offering millennial-only cruises.

Giles Hawke, deputy chairman of Clia UK & Ireland, said: “I would like to think it would help all of us as river cruise lines and you, travel agents, to attract new customers into river cruise and sell them the right holidays.

“I applaud what U by Uniworld have done with their new product. It’s a really exciting innovation. It is out there appealing to a totally new demographic for the river cruise market.”

Hawke also highlighted the efforts of former cruise ship singer and TV presenter Jane McDonald, who fronts Channel 5’s television programme on cruising.

“I think Jane McDonald has done a massive job for river cruising this year,” he said. “Forget which brands she has travelled with; she has gone out there and promoted and sold river cruise. I think Jane will continue to do a huge amount for us in the future.”

2017 River Cruise Excellence Awards

Clia honoured top-performing agent members at its River Cruise Excellence awards.

The awards, now in their second year, were presented by Clia senior vice-president Andy Harmer and Travel Weekly editor-in-chief Lucy Huxley at the Mövenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Centre.

This year saw the addition of two categories: River Cruise Ambassador of the year (Agent) and Special Recognition Award.

The ten winners were:

Best River Cruise Newcomer:
The Vacation Company

Best Marketing Promotion of River Cruise – Online:

Best Marketing Promotion of River Cruise – Homeworker:
Travel Counsellors

Best Marketing Promotion of River Cruise – Retail:
Miles Morgan Travel

Best Overall Performance – North:
Blue Water Holidays

Best Overall Performance – South:
Planet Cruise

River Cruise Agent of the Year:
Gill Williams,

River Cruise Ambassador of the Year (Agency):

River Cruise Ambassador of the Year (Agent):
Janet Whittingham, Travel Counsellors

Special Recognition Award:
Jill Johnson,