Have FIT clients looking for a new way to explore a destination? Or packaged travel clients willing to be just a little bit adventurous before or after their guided tour? Private, self-drive live-aboard boat trips are a unique way of visiting smaller towns in places like France, Italy, and Scotland (and beyond) that give travelers more control of their travel pace and itinerary.
"We call it the fast way to slow down," said Dianne Ledesma, sales manager for Le Boat, a vacation company that specializes in multi-day live-aboard boat rentals on the rivers, canals, and lakes around Europe and Canada.
"Having the perspective from your boat is a completely different experience than driving around or walking around," she added. "You stop where you want to stop. You go at your own pace…" (Although there's a set starting point and end point, in between travelers choose where they want to stop and when.)
"It's a great way to spend time together, seeing things you wouldn't normally see, just the experience of it, sitting on your deck, having a little sundowner with some French cheese and looking at the vineyards."
"It's a gentle mode of travel," added Michele Rauzon, director of sales for 5 Continents, a Canadian-based wholesale tour operator. "You're not in a rush and that's what's great about it."
(5 Continents regularly works with Canadian travel agencies to help them plan vacations for their clients that include a Le Boat component.)
Le Boat operates in eight countries in Europe, with its largest selection in France (nine regions), and two areas of Canada. Boats can hold anywhere from two people to 10. They're easy to use – no license or experience required – and rarely going faster than six miles an hour (10 kilometers).
Clients get a full demonstration on how their boat works and how to operate it.
"The training is so well done," Rauzon told Travel Market Report. "It lasts about an hour because these are very easy boats to steer… They don't let you leave the base until they're certain that you're comfortable."
All Le Boat vessels are also fully equipped for self-catering, every cabin has an en suite bathroom, and there's a sitting area for relaxing.
How can travel advisors fit Le Boat into their travel planning?
Ledesma told TMR that fitting Le Boat into a client's travel plans can be as easy as making it the "main event" or tacking it on to other plans as a pre- or post-trip option.
Trips start from three nights and four nights and, in most regions, can start on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, making them easy to add on to other trips.
A client might do a week's stay in Paris, then opt for a four-day boat trip in Burgundy, where you can arrange winery visits for them. Or a guided tour throughout Scotland that ends with four days sailing on Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal. They can even rent a boat to sail the Venetian canals and visit Burano and Murano.
For clients who want to spend the bulk of their vacation on their own boat, trips are generally seven days. They're especially great for groups, whether couples traveling together or family reunions, Ledesma said.
"Sometimes up to eight or 10 boats will travel together at a time… It's much cheaper than four couples renting four hotel rooms," Ledesma said. "It's really good value for the money."
(People who like to travel with their dogs can even bring their pups along; Le Boat has no restrictions regarding dogs on the boats.)
Clients can do as much or as little as they want during these trips. Although Le Boat will provide a regional guide, travel advisors with expertise in the destinations can make the most of their knowledge by helping arrange day tours, recommend restaurants, and suggest sightseeing attractions.
Additionally, Le Boat can equip the vessels with kayaks, paddleboards, or bikes if you request them.
Who is the right client for a Le Boat trip?
First and foremost, clients that will enjoy spending all or part of their vacation with a Le Boat rental are adventurous, Ledesma said.
"It's somebody that enjoys adventure, something a little bit different, and something off-the-beaten track," she told TMR.
"Somebody who loves nature, who loves water," said Rauzon, adding that clients who enjoy glamping and RV-ing would likely enjoy a Le Boat trip.
But as for a demographic, there isn't one, agreed both Ledesma and Rauzon.
"It's quite a broad range of people. There's no limit to how young or how old you can be," said Ledesma.
"Anyone can do it. During the pandemic, we did a group where the agent took three boats, and 75-year-old ladies were driving the boats," added Rauzon.
Despite the fact that these trips provide little handholding, Ledesma said it appeals as much to people who have never traveled before as it does to those who have, particularly for people with boating experience at home.
While Rauzon said Le Boat is perfect for a wide range of clients, she did emphasize that it's not for everyone, and advisors need to qualify their clients first.
"If someone wants a five-star Fairmont, well, no don't sell them that."
How does Le Boat work with travel advisors?
Le Boat has a long history of working with travel advisors, but Ledesma said the company has seen a drop-off since the COVID pandemic and hopes to start working with more agencies.
The company pays commissions and maintains pricing integrity so that the price clients pay is the same whether they book through an advisor or book direct.
"We are very agent friendly," Ledesma told TMR, adding that Le Boat is always ready to hop on a call with advisors and their clients to help close the sale.
While Le Boat does not have a formal training program, at least three people at the company are available to do online training.
"We have a lovely PowerPoint presentation that we use to train all our agents, which is very in-depth."