AmaWaterways vice-president of operations Jon Burrows speaks to Dave Monk about the future of the line’s shore excursions programme.
Jon, you’re a Briton based in Los Angeles. When did you move across the Atlantic?
I grew up on the Surrey/Hampshire border and left the UK in 1992, initially for Canada, then Australia, and eventually California in 1998. I used to work in Europe as a tour guide during the summers before moving to LA full-time in 2002.
You began work as a sales engineer. How did you end up in travel?
I realised engineering wasn’t my passion. I became a guide with Contiki Holidays in 1992 and knew on my first city tour in Paris that this was the job for me.
How have tours changed since then?
At AmaWaterways, our co-founders, Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, changed shore excursions forever when they decided to offer a choice of two or three included tours each day, all conducted in small groups.
Then we added a range of activity levels from gentle walks to active hikes and introduced cycles on board in 2006.
Today in most ports we offer four excursions – a tour by bus or on foot, a bike ride around the city or into the countryside, a hike often led by our wellness host and finally a special interest tour, such as a tasting visit. In Cologne, for example, we take our guests to drink Kölsch beer and eat potato pancakes and in Ghent they get to make – and eat – chocolate.
How do you plan shore excursions for AmaWaterways?
When we evaluate new tours we ask, ‘would guests like this, will it be enjoyable and will it enrich their river cruise experience’? There has to be a good variety of excursions to allow guests with different interests to enjoy the same itinerary.
The company ran charters for German company e-hoi last year on AmaKristina. How did Covid restrictions affect life on board and on excursions?
The 12-week charter did not include our normal variety of excursions as the German guests preferred to explore ports on their own. Covid protocols included daily temperature readings, more hand-sanitising stations and frequent cleaning of all public areas.
The crew wore masks while guests had to put them on when moving around inside the ship. We operated at about 70 per cent capacity so distancing was easy and guests sat at the same table with the same waiter throughout the cruise. Clear partitions in the lounge created safe seating areas. We had no Covid cases and guest feedback was excellent.
What will the rules be for shore excursions this year?
We may have to adapt certain guided tours that we offer but we do not envision having to restrict our guests’ movement on shore. Passengers will need to meet the entry requirements regarding negative testing or proof of vaccination set by the airlines and the EU, as well as the countries we visit. They should be able to move around freely as long as they respect local protocols on mask-wearing and distancing.
How will the style of excursions change?
We have our normal tours but we have also worked with local suppliers to provide a safe and enjoyable Plan B. In some cases, we may have to shift to an outdoor venue, limit the group size or change how the tasting is served.
Each experience has been evaluated, and may have to be again before we start cruising, but we are confident we can still offer a variety of tours in a safe manner.
Covid aside, how do you see shore excursions developing?
Travellers are moving away from the crowded, iconic sites and searching for ways to slow down, enjoy nature and experience exclusive events hosted by locals.
Guests also want to enrich the destination they visit. By working with local communities, we have been able to reopen long-forgotten wine cellars, stage private Oktoberfests with traditional musicians, build docking facilities, provide funding to schools and open up retail outlets for local artisans.