With only one ship currently sailing, it would be understandable to think all-new river cruise line Riverside Luxury Cruises has humble goals. Five minutes with CEO Jennifer Halboth will quickly disabuse you of that notion.
Halboth, who previously spent 19 years at the Globus family of brands, most recently as director of national accounts, is not thinking small at all.
"At the end of the day, we believe that we can be the true luxury line for river cruise," she told Travel Market Report during a sit-down interview at last week's Cruise360.
Halboth added that she believes luxury clients are underrepresented in river cruise and one of her main goals at Riverside is to attract new-to-river luxury cruisers.
"If advisors have clients that are happy on another river cruise line, share shifting doesn't do anything for the advisor or the industry," she said. "It just doesn't. Number one, we want to attract that new luxury client to river cruise."
It doesn't hurt that Riverside is working with Crystal Cruises' former river fleet, starting with Riverside Mozart (formerly MS Mozart), already sailing, and Riverside Ravel (formerly MS Ravel), which sets sail this summer. Both previous ocean cruises and non-cruisers have likely heard of Crystal Cruises, a brand that is synonymous with luxury.
More than Luxury
But Halboth doesn't only want advisors to think of luxury when they think of Riverside Luxury Cruises.
She also wants to be known as the line for foodies.
"I think a lot of time advisors feel like, I have foodie clients but I don't feel like I can put them on a river cruise. We want them to put them on Riverside."
And, she wants Riverside to be advisors' go-to for affluent families.
When asked, who the Riverside family client is, Halboth explained: "That family of five that does a week in Beaver Creek or Aspen every year for skiing. That's Riverside. I think we are bringing a younger spirit onboard. We have bikes. We have connecting cabins."
She added that advisors should for at families that have teenage kids or multi-gen families with the kids in their 20s, parents in their 40s, and grandparents in their 60s.
"I want to own that market because everyone can come on, they have a choice of excursions… We have those large owner suites that a lot of multi-gen like because the family can all come together and actually be together, not out in the common area."
Beyond Standardized Service
More than anything, Halboth told TMR she wants Riverside to be known for a high level of service that's centered on the empowerment of its crew, and particularly the butlers, to personalize the experience for every guest.
"When you have a really empowered crew, it can be unique all the time. It's not like it has to be cookie cutter. I don't want it to be… that just doesn't get me excited."
Whether it's making sure guests have two frosty Diet Cokes waiting in their suite after they get back from an excursion or facilitating a private afternoon tour, each butler will be trained to act as a personal concierge.
"They're your go-to person. Even if they're not the one who ends up putting it together… they can be your single point of contact… They make the magic happen."
She added that while she knows it will take some time to fully train all the butlers in this yes-first type of service, that's what she really wants Riverside to be known for.
"People are just so delighted when something special happens for them," she said. "And we do need to surprise them and delight them and make them feel special every time they come onboard."
Straight to the Trade
To help her achieve her lofty goals for Riverside, Halboth is relying on travel advisors.
"At the end of the day, the company is a European hotel company. They could have decided to just be a European or a German cruise operator. But they would only be so big. If you want to be successful, you have got to have the North American market… and if you want to be successful in the U.S. river cruise market, you have got to have the U.S. travel advisor. It's that simple."
[Riverside Luxury Cruises is owned by German-owned Seaside Collection, an hotelier well-known among German travelers for service-focused luxury properties.]
Halboth timed the brand's public debut for last month's ASTA River Cruise Expo in Budapest. The results, she said were phenomenal. In just three days' time, more than 700 advisors got to tour Riverside Mozart and meet the company's sales team.
"I knew it was a product that people had to come and see and feel and touch. Especially, being backed by a European company. I know there were a lot of questions."
She even planned a surprise christening, giving many of the some 100 or so invited advisors the chance to attend their first-ever ship naming.
While she said there's been an uptick in bookings since the Expo, Halboth told TMR she's less interested in filling the Mozart and Ravel this summer with revenue passengers than she is with perfecting the Riverside Luxury Cruises experience, and giving as many advisors a chance to experience the brand.
When it comes to revenue sailings, she's looking to this year's Christmas Market cruises and the full 2024 deployment (which adds in sailings on Riverside Debussy and Riverside Bach) to really jumpstart the brand.
"Advisors need time to go home, share their excitement with their clients. Once we get our full portfolio for '24 out… we need a little bit more critical mass. That's what helps drive sales. Once the full '24 portfolio is out, we're going to see a nice uptick."
In the meantime, the company is offering deeply discounted travel advisor rates and participating in as many live events as possible to get front of as many travel advisors as possible.
"When we are doing anything consumer, it's really to provide air support for the travel advisor because I know they have the challenge of, so you're offering me something I've never heard of."
But if advisors can point to an ad in AFAR or their clients see a story in Travel + Leisure, it helps legitimize the advisors' suggestion.
"That is all air support for the advisor to be more successful selling us."
There's still a lot of work to be done to get the brand completely ready for travel advisors. Until recently, the marketing team was using old Crystal assets. The first assets for Riverside Mozart are just starting to come in, and assets for Riverside Ravel won't come in until this summer.
There's no agency education platform yet – that's expected later this year. And even the booking platform isn't 100% where Halboth wants it to be.
But Halboth is relentlessly positive and she's confident it won't be long before the booking platform, the marketing systems, and the product itself, are ready for primetime.