North American river cruising
While European river cruises continue to grow in popularity, travel agents shouldn’t ignore the North America river cruising scene, according to river cruise executives.
Whether rolling along the Mississippi from New Orleans to Memphis, exploring the rivers of Tennessee, or cruising the Columbia River in the Northwest, North American river cruising is gaining popularity.
Witness the fact that American Cruise Lines, which operates a fleet of seven riverboats and small cruise ships, has three more vessels planned.
And in February, Viking Cruises announced New Orleans as the homeport for its first North American river cruises, expected to begin in 2017.
Smaller ships The ships that cruise North American waterways tend to be small – many of them between 50 and 150 passengers – and provide exceptional personal service and a memorable but low-key experience.
“Once they walk on board our crewmembers know their names right away. And when we go into the ports of call we never overwhelm them,” said Susan Schultz, director of sales of American Cruise Lines. “That’s what clients are looking for.
“Our passengers can enjoy the regional flair because it’s not commercialized. We can go into little small areas, and the local people love to have us.”
50 and up Although this type of cruising is not for everyone, it’s a good fit for certain clients.
The demographics tend to be 50 years old and up. It’s people who have been all over the world and are looking for something different and are more likely to have cruised on European riverboats than big ships.
There are many reasons why people like North American riverboat and coastal cruising, according to Schultz.
“They like the ease of traveling in the U.S.; they can drive, they can fly, they can take a train,” she said..
And it’s a great product for agents to sell. “It’s a very lucrative market, and we exceed client expectations,” said Bill Diebenow, American Queen Steamboat Co.’s senior vice president of sales.
Themed cruises For American Queen Steamboat Co., it’s special themes that help net agents repeat sales, said Diebenow.
The company operates the American Queen on the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers and the American Empress in the Northwest on the Columbia and Snake Rivers
These type of theme cruises are also offered by American Cruise Lines.
“We’re improving our themes every year, and these themes are what get people coming back. The travel agent needs to familiarize themselves with the themes – and the regions too,” said Diebenow.
Repeat clients Although themes add another dimension to a river cruise, some passengers love the experience of a river cruise without any additional enticements, so much, in fact, that they’ll cruise the same river multiple times, according to North American river cruise executives.
“One woman did 133 trips, and her husband was on about 100 of them, and four other couples have done 40 trips or more,” said Bob Clark, founder and president of St. Lawrence Cruise Lines. The company operates one 32-stateroom ship, the Canadian Empress, that cruises the St. Lawrence Seaway and Ottawa River.
Why do they keep coming back?
“It’s the beauty, the charm, the great historic sights, the calm waters. But the river itself is the reason you should come,” said Clark.
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