How to Successfully Sell River Cruises, From the Experts

by Jessica Montevago
How to Successfully Sell River Cruises, From the Experts

Moderator Drew Daly of Dream Vacations with the panel (from left to right): Cindy Sullivan, Avalon Waterways; Walter Littlejohn, Crystal River Cruises; Joni Rein, ‎Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours; Liz Coleman, Paul Gauguin Cruises; and Kristin Karst, AmaWaterways


Selling rivers cruises is a great way for travel agents to create high-repeat clients while yielding commission checks with a comma.

A panel of executives last week at the New York Times Travel Show discussed how advisors can cross-sell to clients already in their databases.

If you don’t already keep a database of existing clients, start there. It’s as simple as opening up an Excel spreadsheet and inputting previous bookings, advised Walter Littlejohn, vice president and managing director, Crystal River Cruises. Another way to beef up your database is to “partner with friends who own businesses, do something together to leverage their databases and share the wealth.”

Joni Rein, vice president, sales and marketing, managing director – USA, ‎Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, suggested vetting people and categorizing them by what they do, from activities they like to hotel brands they stay at. If they say Four Seasons, you know they are a luxury traveler. “You have to build your database in order to mine your database, but think smart.” 

From there, look at what trips clients have taken in the past, and use that to suggest a river cruise that correlates to their interests and where they might want to go next. For example, Littlejohn said, “Anyone you ever sold an ocean cruise to in Europe, those people are great to target for a European river cruise; if you look to Caribbean resort vacations, those are great prospects for a Tahitian river cruise; for an Asia land vacation, those folks are great targets to sell a river cruise on the Mekong.” For clients who’ve seen it all, suggest an expedition cruise to the Arctic.

Partner with other local businesses for cruise nights
Another tool travel advisors can take advantage of is hosting a consumer night. “It really opens up the opportunity to show them the service you can provide them,” along with expertise and knowledge on the subject, said Cindy Sullivan, director, field sales – eastern region, Avalon Waterways. She added that clients are more open to the idea once they’ve seen and heard more about the product. Business Development Managers can also assist with marketing materials or come as well to talk about the product.

Liz Coleman, director of sales, Northeast & Midwest, Paul Gauguin Cruises, recommended partnering with someone for this type of event to expand your reach, like a retirement community or someone from your database. “Sometimes it’s just sales 101 and pick up the phone, people love to talk about themselves. Tell them you’re hosting a travel seminar and ask them what ideas they have,” she said.

Being personal, agreed Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner, AmaWaterways, is essential as “river cruising is an extremely genuine experience.” When you couple that with creating partnerships and being persistent and passionate, advisors will lead themselves to success in this lucrative niche.

Get first-hand experience with the products
The entire panel was in agreement that the best way to sell river cruises is to experience it first-hand. Each company offers some type of discounted agent rate to facilitate. Littlejohn said the initial investment has the opportunity to pay off tenfold, sharing that an agent who listened to his webinar invested in a cruise, and a year later, she harnessed that insight to sell a trip that earned her a six-figure commission check.

“We invest in this because when you have this passion, you will get the benefits of your stay onboard and you will get all the clients. It will pay off for you,” Karst said.

What better time is there than the new year to set up some fam trips? Travel advisors may want to consider any of these current offers:

AmaWaterways — An agent rate is available of $690 per person, double occupancy for a seven-night cruise, 60 days before departure. Also, agents who sell nine cruises will get the tenth free.

Avalon — Discounts 60 days and 40 days prior to departure are available. The line is also offering ways to earn free travel through selling across its four brands.

Crystal Cruises — Agent rates for sailings are available at $300 per person, per day.

Paul Gauguin Cruises —For any sailing 30-45 days out, the discounted price per person varies from $150 to $275, for a travel companion as well. PEARLS agents (graduates of the line's training program) will receive higher discounts on fams.

Scenic — The line offers independent fam rates, and group rates, as well as a whole charter for a host. 

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