Riviera Travel trading director Stuart Milan offers his exclusive opinion to Cruise Trade News on why now is the best time for agents to start selling river cruise, Riviera’s growing support for the trade and the importance of education
After many years of playing second fiddle to ocean, river cruise is ready to fully emerge from the shadows in 2024.
For travel agents, there has never been a better time to immerse themselves in river. With an array of new ships and innovative itineraries – such as special themed cruises and voyages that put guests at the heart of the experience – the opportunities are boundless.
We know that once people try a river cruise, they are highly likely to book more in the future, giving agents a loyal, repeat customer, in turn boosting earning potential and commission.
It’s important to highlight to clients that the variety of river itineraries is expanding. While the European heavyweights of the Danube and the Rhine are still immensely popular, guests are keen to explore further afield, and we at Riviera and other river operators are devising new itineraries worldwide.
The industry is also listening to feedback, with different itinerary durations to attract a new type of guest.
Whereas in the past it was common to only find seven or 14-night cruises, now there are shorter and longer options available.
River cruise lines ‘no longer sitting back’
When it comes to new ships, river lines are no longer sitting back and are instead going full force with the marketing and promotion of these vessels. At Riviera we have a new ship on the Douro in 2024, to meet demand for what is becoming a more popular destination.
Alongside new hardware, there is also a very clear push across the sector to offer more availability for solo travellers, again demonstrating how river does not shy away from taking note of market trends.
All in all, there has never been a wider choice of product, making it easier for agents to find the right river cruise for the right customer.
With so much going on, it’s vital that we as operators provide the necessary support. Much investment has gone into building trade teams to ensure agents have that helping hand whenever they need it.
Trade education remains ‘fundamental’
Education is fundamental and the trade should make the most of fam trip opportunities and training materials offered by suppliers. There are also valuable tools provided by CLIA to guide agents on the journey of becoming river cruise experts.
These developments put river in a strong place to attract new-to-cruise and new-to-river guests in 2024. It’s clear to see that operators are now, more than ever, focusing on building brand awareness.
With a combination of targeted advertising, developing trade relationships, and partnerships – at Riviera we have joined forces with English Heritage – the river cruise message is cutting through the noise.
I truly believe that 2024 is shaping up to be a record year, and we need to work alongside agents every step of the way to ensure that prediction becomes reality.
The river sector has been on a long journey to get to this point, but this is just the start of greater things to come.
Stuart Milan is trading director for Riviera Travel