Pitching small ships and river cruises: Tackling client questions: Travel Weekly

FORT LAUDERDALE — Travel advisors who sell small-ship and river cruises often must manage client expectations about price and water levels. Marketing and sales pros gave tips on how to do that during a Pitch Perfect session at Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld on Friday.

Moderator Christen Perry, owner of Classic Travel Connection in Birmingham, Ala., called the cost of river and small-ship cruises “our biggest hurdle” to closing sales. “How do we bring our value/budget clients into your space?” she asked the panelists. 

Sell the experience, advised Carlos Ramirez, business development manager for the Southern U.S for Quark Expeditions, which specializes in cruises in the Arctic and Antarctica.

“We’re fortunate to have an experiential product,” said Ramirez. “With our product, we speak more on the adventure and the experience than anything else. The price point comes in later, because most people are trying to get to their seventh continent or trying to see a polar bear in its natural habitat.”

Ramirez added that many clients are willing to “stretch their budget a little bit more” to get the amazing experience.

For clients who get sticker shock looking at the price of a European river cruise, break down the components, suggested Darren Dolan, Viking’s business development manager for South Florida.

Point out what other cruise lines charge for WiFi, alcoholic beverages and excursions compared to Viking’s inclusive product. “Then we’re comparing apples with apples,” he said.

River cruising and water levels

Moderator Jesse Morris, owner of We Book Travel in Short Pump, Va., brought up the subject of water levels, sarcastically saying that “the media has been our friend this year.”

He said clients do their own research online, and they might — incorrectly — come away with the impression that cruise disruptions due to low water levels is a rampant problem in river cruising.

2022 was a challenging summer with Europe experiencing a severe drought. However, the problem was not as bad as portrayed in the media, said Janet Bava, AmaWaterways’ chief marketing officer.

She said the chances of low water levels disrupting a river cruise is “very low.

“We know media: If it bleeds, it leads,” she said. “There was coverage in the consumer media, and so now everyone thinks this happens all the time.”

Marilyn Conroy, Riviera River Cruises’ executive vice president of sales and marketing for North America, said less than 1% of all river cruises are interrupted.

“That is an amazing number, and we should remember that every time we hear that objection from clients,” Perry said.

If there was a disruption in Europe this summer, it likely happened on the Rhine. Dolan said he was on a Viking ship in August that experienced a disruption. The passengers were informed in Strasbourg that they would be transported to another ship on a bus ride from Cologne to Speyer. “We got to spend all day in Speyer, it was beautiful,” he said.

Dolan added that Viking was able to provide passengers with an experience sailing the Middle Rhine by contacting a local company and hiring a day boat.

Cruise disruptions don’t happen often, but “tell your clients this is how Viking handles it,” said Dolan.

Bava similarly said, “If it does happen, we’re all guest-centric brands. Your clients will be taken care of, and they’ll be compensated. If it’s two or three days [of disruption], they’ll get an immense amount of future cruise credits. I assure you, the second time they come, they will not be experiencing low water. Again, it’s something that happens very seldom.”

The panel on river cruises and small cruises also included Kristen Steele, representing Avalon Waterways as the senior director of key accounts for the Globus family of brands.

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