Avalon Artistry II.
It’s a tough prospect taking over for Patrick Clarke, who has been the face of Avalon Waterways for more than a decade. But new managing director Terri Burke is ready. “This is a dream job,” she says.
After the announcement of her appointment earlier this week, Burke took some time to talk to TMR about the future of the company, her industry background and the importance of travel agents.
Patrick Clarke has been with Avalon since 2005 and has largely been the face behind the company. What is the transition to your leadership going to be like?
Avalon has an extremely strong team of people behind its success, and Patrick has done an incredible job steering and sharing the growth of our river cruise business. He joined us when we had 3 ships; we now have 16 ships sailing the world’s rivers. It’s an incredible accomplishment. But the transition to new leadership has a long runway, while Patrick stays on as chairman through most of 2017. During this time, Pam Hoffee—who has an operational background with Avalon Waterways—and I will work together to continue to grow and strengthen the brand’s awareness, offerings and trade relationships. Patrick’s legacy is profound and inspiring, and Pam and I look forward to continuing down the path he helped pave while looking for additional roads that lead to successful growth for Avalon and the river cruise industry as a whole.
Are you excited about taking the reins from such an industry professional?
Absolutely. This is a dream job. Combining my ocean cruise experience, travel agent expertise and history with the Globus family of brands, I know we will can continue to build upon the strong foundation that Patrick and our worldwide Avalon Waterways team has created.
What makes Avalon different from the other cruise lines sailing on the world’s rivers?
I like to say that we’ve been successful in fusing a unique experience from both hardware and software points of view. On one hand, we have purpose-built Suite Ships that were engineered to showcase the beauty of the destinations we visit, starting with 11-foot, floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows that open 7 feet wide (and beds that face these views). We also have the strength of land offerings, thanks to the Globus family of brands’ 90-year history. We have hundreds of teams of people on the ground helping us create innovative and authentic land experiences. They’re also there to provide us unparalleled back-up plans if, on occasion, Mother Nature gets in the way of our perfectly planned itineraries.
Are there any plans for those things to change as new leadership takes over?
No. We have a sound strategy and operations structure that has worked very well for us. The only change taking place will be continuing to innovate both ships and itineraries on the rivers of the world.
What does 2017—and the future after that—hold for Avalon Waterways?
2017 is looking great. This fall, we launched a highly successful television advertising campaign with an enticing Fly Free offer, creating a strong load factor and setting up 2017 for great success. And the future? Our goal is to always deliver on our traveler and travel agent promises. We know we’re not the biggest in river cruising, and we’re good with that. Instead, we offer a premium product with great value. Our promise to travelers is to deliver an exceptional vacation. Our promise to agents is to be true partners (while delivering their clients an exceptional vacation). That won’t change.
What can travel agents expect from you in the future?
With all of the new entrants into the river-cruise arena, I think we can all expect an evolution of enhancements, new destinations, great pricing and value. This is a travel style that is nowhere close to reaching its peak.
Travelers need help understanding the experience, from itineraries and ships to price. Agents have a huge opportunity to educate them, delivering a great and needed value, while reaping commission rewards.