'Embracing technology key to attracting new clients'
River cruise agents and suppliers must adopt technology rapidly, as customers become more connected.
Clia River Cruise chairman Lucia Rowe stressed the importance of agents and suppliers in attracting and retaining the emerging “connected cruisers”.
Rowe, who is A-Rosa’s UK and Ireland head of sales, said: “Travel companies need to rapidly adopt new technology, as today’s travellers increasingly want to manage their entire trip on a mobile device.
“We have this amazing product in river cruise but it is about getting that product noticed.
“As we have seen at this conference, it is about securing the right product to the right people, but also offering it when they want, and where they want it.
“There is a big difference of perspective on how we can sell. We need to start thinking about reaching those connected cruisers.”
Rowe said technology could evolve in the next five years from mobile apps and websites to virtual reality.
“Systems will change very rapidly,” she added. “It’s happening now, we’re not talking about 2025.
“As cruise lines, we have to be the best at getting our systems up to date and telling agents how to specialise.”
Anthony Rawlins, founder of travel media company Digital Visitor, said travel companies should be spending about 20% of their marketing budget on social media, while agents should be making themselves familiar with customer engagement and advertising on platforms such as Facebook.
He added: “Social media in cruise is underutilised, especially in river cruise. But it doesn’t have to be a missed opportunity.
“There may be a higher age range for river cruise customers, but they are still using social media at the end of their trip, at least to share pictures. If your customers are on social media, you should be.”
Hawke urges river lines to highlight their differences
River cruise suppliers must promote their tangible differences to agents and customers if the sector is to catch up with ocean cruising.
Speaking at the Clia River Cruise Convention on Sunday, Giles Hawke, chief executive of Avalon Waterways, said it was down to cruise lines to help agents know the difference between suppliers.
Hawke believes river cruising is 10 years behind ocean cruising in terms of consumer awareness but could be on the same level within five years.
“There is a huge opportunity for river cruise as a sector to catch up with ocean cruise,” he said.
“We can learn so much from what the ocean cruise lines have done. They have, just because of their scale and size, been able to invest a lot of money and make mistakes and learn things.
“River cruise lines can now learn very quickly the aspects which have worked for ocean cruises and those which haven’t.
“I think each supplier must be clear what their one or two or three brand pillars are and the tangible differences.
“This is so travel agents can communicate to customers the key aspects of the river cruise lines, [but] I don’t think anyone does that well and it all merges.”
He also said there was a trend for cruise lines to copy others, which made it difficult for agents to differentiate brands.
“The challenge is that a lot of things can be copied, so you could do something and then the next year one of your competitors could copy that,” he said.
“I think this demonstrates that we could all be more unique and different but still be great in this growing sector.”
The Avalon Waterways boss said this progression was a mutual process and more could be done for agents to understand the price differences between brands.
“There is a lot of focus a lot of the time by agents on price and I think this is where agents need to do a bit more.
“It’s a mutual piece of work. We [river cruise operators] need to explain more about our unique selling points, but then travel agents need to bring that to bear when they’re thinking or talking about selling a particular cruise.”
Crystal claims to be sectors only ultra-luxury brand
Crystal Cruises is the “only ultra-luxury brand” on the river, according to the chief executive of Crystal Cruises.
In a bullish keynote speech at the Clia River Cruise Conference, Edie Rodriguez said the brand had no competitors and was not a cruise for “grandparents”.
“We are the only true ultra-luxury river cruise brand. We sell experiences that create memories of a lifetime,” she told delegates.
“It is not your grandparents’ river cruise. We don’t just attract ocean cruisers, we are attracting first-time cruisers.
“We are delighted to lead in this genre of cruising. You will see that guests are attracted to the Crystal experience because there is finally a luxury river cruise line in the marketplace.”
Rodriguez said because of the ultra-luxury on offer at Crystal, the average age of customers was in the mid-40s.
She described Brexit as a “blip” and said the UK would continue to be among Crystal’s top markets.
“While we have ocean guests, I would say the world is your oyster in attracting river guests,” added Rodriguez.
“It is not just trying to move ocean guests to a river cruise. It is about painting them into the picture to understand what a river cruise experience
Agents asked for their 'lightbulb moment'
Clia has unveiled its new campaign, asking agents to reveal the moment selling cruise really ‘clicked’ for them.
The association wants agents to send in a video or written description for its Cruise Lightbulb Moment campaign in an effort to highlight the diversity of cruise.
Director of Clia UK & Ireland, Andy Harmer, said: “The campaign is a great opportunity to champion ‘only-in-cruising’ experiences and celebrate cruise advocates in the UK travel trade.”
Entries are open until December 14. The winner, who will be chosen by a panel of cruise experts, will receive a selection of prizes and experiences, as well as being crowned 2017’s #CLIAWinner.
To enter, agents must submit up to 200 words or a short video to email@example.com with the subject line ‘Cruise Moment’.cruiseexperts.com
Clia to host first Cruise360 event in Denmark next year
Clia will host its first Cruise360 conference in Copenhagen on September 9-11, 2017.
The cruise association had planned to host the event in Marseille this year, but it was postponed.
Cruise360 is an established event in the north American and Australian markets, aiming to give delegates practical advice and support to expand their sales.
The inaugural European event will feature multiple ship visits and local excursions.
Andy Harmer, vice-president of operations and director of Clia UK & Ireland, said the event would feature keynote conference sessions on the latest trends within cruising.
Delegates will spend the day onboard Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess, with an excursion and evening event also planned.
The following day will be held on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Getaway, with a gala dinner that evening.
On the final day, there will be a trade fair, with a cruise sales masterclass also planned.
Clia lauds top performers at first river cruise awards
Nominees attended a ceremony hosted by headline sponsor Tauck onboard new vessel Grace, followed by an after-party courtesy of Emerald Waterways.
Awards were handed out by director of Clia UK & Ireland Andy Harmer and Travel Weekly editor-in-chief Lucy Huxley.
The award for River Cruise Ambassador of the Year went to Margaret McCorriston from Planet Cruise. She said: “We are seeing a growth in people who are interested and I sell to a lot of ocean cruisers and also people who have never cruised before.
“As we see river cruises increasing the amount of active excursions they offer, I think this is when we will see younger people wanting to holiday on them too.”
Blue Water Holidays agent Juliet Archer took home the award for 2016 Clia River Cruise Agent of the Year, with Sarah Bolton from Travel Counsellors highly commended.
Product and commercial director at Cruise.co.uk Tony Andrews took home the gong for Best Marketing Promotion of River Cruise (homeworkers).
The award for Best River Cruise Newcomer went to ROL Cruise (previously known as Readers Offers).
Commercial director Andrew Say said: “We are delighted to have won this as river cruise is a very important part of our company.
“River cruise is a growing area of the industry and we plan to increase our focus on it over the next few years.”
Awards for Best Marketing Promotion of River Cruise (retail) went to Baldwins Travel and Cruise Village (online).
Best Overall Performance – North went to River Voyages, part of Cruise 118, while Iglu Cruise won the award for the south.See our gallery of the event here
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