How to Convert Ocean Cruisers to River Cruisers

Sponsored by Uniworld
by Denise Caiazzo
How to Convert Ocean Cruisers to River Cruisers

With more ships being introduced each year, the river cruise industry needs travel advisors to help fill those vessels. Photo: Uniworld.


River cruising is, no doubt, one of the fastest-growing segments of the cruise industry today, and the travel industry overall. Have you noticed when you’re chit-chatting with friends and family about vacations, that it seems nearly everyone knows someone who has either been on a river cruise recently or is considering it? Although river cruising has been around for quite some time, it has truly come into vogue only over the past decade.

And, there are no signs of a slowdown. The industry is investing big bucks in this segment, with multiple new river ships being introduced each year. What can you do, as a travel advisor, to help fill those vessels … and take home the sizeable commissions that go with it?

We spoke to a few of your travel advisor peers to gather their insights and selling tips that can help you convert ocean cruisers - and land clients, too - to the wonderful world of river cruising. Here’s what they said.

1. Suggest new destinations to seasoned ocean cruisers.
An excellent place to start looking for potential river cruisers is your current database of ocean cruise clients. Some of those seasoned cruisers are in the market for a completely new adventure. Consider, where can they go that they haven’t been before? Think of all the culturally rich, and sometimes even remote, destinations that only the smaller river ships can access.

“I have been in business selling ocean cruises for over 40 years, and many of my clients have sailed almost everywhere you can sail by ocean,” said Ruth Turpin, owner of Cruises Etc., in Fort Worth, Texas. “For this reason, it is easy for us to get them excited about the fact that they can see the inland parts of the world and still be in the luxury of cruising, where you unpack one time and enjoy seeing new sights.”

2. Mine your land clients, too.
In many ways, river cruising is more akin to a land tour than an ocean cruising experience. Some food for thought, Turpin said: “The other type of client that we convert is clients who have done land tours, and they are perfect for learning to see the rivers of the world in luxury.”

Gail Woloz, owner of Gail’s Travel, an affiliate of TravelStore, in Manhattan Beach, CA, agrees: “I convert more land clients [than ocean cruise clients] because it’s more inclusive, and they see more smaller villages, docking right in the city. Everything is included, so it’s a better value than my putting FITs together with flights between cities. It’s easier for an agent to convert a land client than an ocean cruise client - and you make more money.”

3. Focus on immersive adventures in the heart of local towns and villages.
River cruises are port-intensive, visiting a new destination once, or even twice, a day. The local villages, towns and city centers are the key attractions, rather than the over-the-top features onboard the ocean-going ships.

Describe to your clients how these smaller vessels can dock right in the heart of the towns and cities along the river. Sailings in Europe, as well as on the more exotic itineraries such as those in Vietnam and India, take guests into the more remote areas that are typically not experienced firsthand by tourists. The ability to visit the destinations that are often only accessible by river ship is extraordinary, and in many cases, life-changing.

4. Sell the experience.
One might think that travelers choose a river cruise entirely based on the ports of call or the travel brand. But, sometimes, it’s the overall experience that captures their attention.

“People often don't realize how much clients will see and experience,” said Turpin. “Show them the shore excursions, and also show them the onboard culture, as it is very inviting when presented correctly. Food and service are beyond compare on the cruise lines we sell.” She went on to note the all-inclusive appeal, which covers not only the cruise, but all beverages (including wine, beer and other types of alcohol), and a fabulous shore excursion in each port.  

For many, the intimate, smaller size of river ships is also appealing, and provides a boutique hotel experience. Generally accommodating only about 120-150 guests, the low guest-to-staff ratio allows for highly personalized attention paid to the guests. And, who doesn’t want to be thoroughly pampered?

5. Stress that there’s plenty to do.
One of the biggest obstacles travel advisors might face is that some clients think they will be bored. “Nothing could be further from this,” quipped Turpin, “and I show them the main things they will be able to do at each port on their complimentary tours, plus I show them all of the things the cruise lines offer onboard.” 

In port, it’s all about location and culture … and walking. Guests can squeeze in a lot of sightseeing, walking or biking as they see fit, into the river cruise experience. Plus, the river cruise lines offer a bevy of activities like hikes, golf, kayaking, cooking classes, art seminars, and visits to the ballet or opera.

And for those who would rather take it slow and easy, they can opt to sit calmly on deck, with a picturesque riverscape always before them as they pass by forests, fields, medieval castles, palaces, churches, and all of the charming towns and cities that line the riverbanks.

6. Talk about delicious, locally sourced cuisine.
Particularly appealing for foodies, river cruising allows the chef to step off the ship in each port to purchase fresh, locally sourced food for his/her culinary creations. On some itineraries, guests also have the opportunity to go to a farmer’s market with the chef.

7. Close with the all-inclusive appeal.
After you’ve gotten them all excited about the ports they’ll visit, the immersive experiences, the intimate size of the ships, and the scrumptious local cuisine, move onto closing that sale by talking about the all-inclusive nature of river cruising. Travelers who have already done ocean cruising but are now looking for something different, and like the all-inclusive concept, tend to be a great fit for river cruising.

If you need still more inspiration, take it from Turpin, who said: “Last year, I converted a client who had actually done two world cruises to a Danube cruise, and they totally loved it and have rebooked another cruise, this time on the Rhine … I love selling river cruises because clients always come back happy, and we have a fabulous rate of clients returning and booking another river cruise.”

FROM THE SPONSOR: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, the world's most luxurious all-inclusive river cruise line, features stunning, one-of-a-kind boutique ships with an average capacity of 130 guests and one of the best staff-to-guest ratios on the rivers. Uniworld offers the most all-inclusive itineraries in Europe, as well as voyages in Russia, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, India, and Egypt — a total of 23 rivers in 24 countries worldwide. 

Extended for a limited time, you still have a chance to make Uniworld’s “Our Best Offer” your best offer, with a choice to save up to 30 percent or enjoy free air on select 2019 voyages — with an option to upgrade to business-class air for just $1,999 per person (the business-class air offer is also eligible on suites). As you cruise along legendary rivers in style and luxury, you’ll enjoy one-of-a-kind, award-winning ships, the most all-inclusive amenities, delicious farm-to-table cuisine, outstanding service, and a choice of carefully curated experiences. Plus, we’ve just added our “Imperial Waterways of Russia” itinerary to our Free Air offer, so don’t miss your chance to discover Russia’s grandeur and artistic treasures at an unmatched value. Full payment is not required at booking. For more information, visit www.uniworld.com.

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Tip of the Day

I do think there are possibilities for traveler advisors to make money doing domestic trips. I charge a planning fee for my time and expertise, and then book commissionable hotels and activities that meet the client’s needs.

Terri Weeks

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