Riviera Travel is going for growth

An expanding sales force, rocketing sales figures and a larger trophy cabinet needed… Joseph Grimley shares riviera travel’s success story with Katherine Lawrey.

When Joseph Grimley was appointed to kick-start Riviera Travel’s agency sales in 2012, he was a one-man band with a BlackBerry, a laptop and a car. Fast forward five years. He now has a team of five working with him and some outstanding sales figures to their credit.

“Bookings through agents for 2017 departures are up 40% year-on-year,” said Grimley, now head of agency sales. “Our mission to educate the trade is starting to pay dividends and we’re seeing some phenomenal growth.”

The river cruise fleet is growing too, with Emily Bronte and Thomas Hardy the latest additions, taking the number of vessels the company charters to 10 for 2017 once Oscar Wilde arrives in August. The company favours charters over owning the vessels outright, explained Grimley, to avoid the uncertainty of filling berths in the winter months. “That way it helps keep our prices lower.”

More than 30 trade partners previewed the two newest vessels when they were christened in Amsterdam in February. There will be further chances to see Emily Bronte first-hand at a trade day in Cologne in June, when 40 agents will be invited onboard for lunch, and when she docks in Amsterdam for the Clia River Cruise Convention in November.

Riviera Travel offers itineraries on the Rhine, Rhone, Moselle, Main, Seine, Danube and the Douro, which Grimley said is in high demand after its introduction last year.

“We also have the Douro Elegance launching in April and we will have extra capacity in July and August on another new build, the Douro Serenity. Ideally, we could have chartered it for the whole summer. We are looking at more new builds on the Douro but nothing is signed yet.”

CHRISTMAS MARKETS ITINERARY

Miltenberg - Germany

Miltenberg – Germany

For the first time this year Riviera Travel is operating a Christmas Markets itinerary, the Enchanting Rhine and Yuletide Markets, from £499pp. The four-night itinerary covers Cologne, Rudesheim, Frankfurt and Koblenz, with eight departures available – four on Emily Bronte and four on Thomas Hardy.

“They’re filling up steadily,” said Grimley. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand from our loyal client base for the Christmas markets, so it’s worth agents offering it to their Riviera regulars.”

Another new itinerary is Budapest to the Black Sea. The 14-night itinerary starts and ends in Budapest, and travels through Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, all the way to the Danube Delta at Tulcea.

“This is something a little bit different,” explained Grimley, “and it will suit those who want a longer cruise but have done the Rhine in Germany and the Danube through Austria. Now we have more ships, we have the scope to try new routes like this.”

An itinerary that has been tweaked is the five-day Amsterdam, Kinderdijk & the Dutch Bulbfields cruise, coinciding with the world-famous spring floral display at Keukenhof. “We now stop in Kinderdijk, rather than Volendam, which was getting really busy.”

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

Shifting the focus to onboard, drinks packages are now available to pre-book with 2018 river cruises, starting from £59 for four nights. “We still don’t believe in complete all-inclusive,” said Grimley. “Lots of itineraries include time ashore and we know our customers like to seek out local places. But people have mentioned drinks with meals, so this does give them the best of both worlds. It’s all about personal choice and preference at the end of the day.”

Although Riviera Travel is undoubtedly best known for its river cruise programme, that’s not the limit to what’s on offer. And for the first time, agents are now able to rack a new trade-only brochure, showcasing the complete Riviera Travel cruise portfolio.

“Up until now we’ve had mini brochures, which compete for space on a brochure rack. This combines all our cruise content in one place and we anticipate it will drive bookings as a result once people realise what’s on offer,” Grimley explained.

As well as the European river cruise programme, the Cruise Collection includes cruises on the Ganges and the Mekong, an exclusive Star Clippers’ tall ship charter from Venice to Rome, allocations with Voyages to Antiquity in the Mediterranean, a Queen Mary 2 transatlantic touring programme and yacht cruising along the Dalmatian Coast.

“These products have always been there, but we haven’t really pushed them out to agents. They’re pretty lucrative for agents to sell, and they will appeal to adventurous clients who like the safety net of travelling with like-minded clients and with a Riviera tour guide.”

It’s a formula that evidently works, with Riviera Travel topping Which Travel’s Cruise Survey released in February for Best River Cruise Line.

“We were one of only three cruise lines, alongside Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Hurtigruten, to be given Which Recommended Provider status. It means a lot because it’s an objective survey and based on genuine customer feedback.”

About The Author

Katherine Lawrey is group editor of Cruise Trade News and Cruise Ports & Destinations, with 11 years' travel media experience to her name. She has visited more than 60 countries and stepped onboard countless cruise ships. Her most memorable cruise experience was being surrounded on port and starboard sides by breaching whales in Glacier Bay, Alaska.