“Off the charts” is how Angela Turen of Naperville, Ill.-based Churchill & Turen described advance bookings for the 2020 Europe river cruise season, adding that itineraries beyond 2020 are selling briskly as well. “We are currently recommending specific 2022 departures before they sell out,” she said.
Although 2020 availability is somewhat limited, there is still availability, particularly on Danube and Rhine river cruises, “which have more heads and beds,” said Shari Marsh of Cruise Holidays in Raleigh, N.C. “For river cruising, the booking window is 12 to 18 months, so we’re looking at 2021.”
Hot sellers for 2020 include France and Portugal itineraries.
“The new ships sailing the Douro River are well-positioned for growth,” Turen said. “Bordeaux and Burgundy itineraries are also strong.”
When it comes to selling river cruises, product knowledge has never been more important. “Educating ourselves about the cruise lines is key,” said Claire Schoeder of Travel Edge in Atlanta. “I focus on just a couple lines so that I know them well rather than try to have surface knowledge about all of them.”
Schoeder digs deep. “Agents should not only be familiar with what the river cruise boats are like and what different lines offer to guests, but they should also know when rivers are likely to be at the lowest levels and what the cruise line plans if a particular river is not navigable,” she said. “While water level is hard to predict each year, being familiar with the recent water level history does offer significant guidance.”
Schoeder always asks what action lines are taking when rivers are too low for the cruise to take place. “I make sure my clients know the possibilities before booking the cruise for them,” she said. “I want them to be comfortable with the alternatives.”
For her part, Turen recommended that agents choose preferred river lines wisely, particularly when it comes to the luxury market. “Unlike the luxury [ocean] cruise market, one or two top-tier riverboat lines truly stand out from their competitors, she said. “Learn who they are and their attributes. Have a ‘fake debate’ in the office where staff tries to shake your belief in the line you designate ‘Best in Class.’ ”
She also suggested that agents design their own ranking of lines on their websites. “It will force you research them thoroughly,” she said.
James Ferguson of Travel Edge in La Jolla, Calif. – who is predicting a 15 to 20 percent increase in bookings this year over 2019 – suggested that agents complete educational programs for those lines that they choose as preferred suppliers. Upon completion of those programs, agents are often eligible to participate in fam trips. “With a fam experience one can sell with confidence,” he said.
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