Select Travel Holidays’ Amy Wright went to the Clia convention in Vietnam and discovered how knowledge of a destination can inspire and inform your clients.
Asia has to be seen to be believed. In fact, it has to be more than just seen – it needs to be heard, smelt, tasted and felt. You might have seen photos of the motorbikes of Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s another matter when you’re rushing to cross the road with them dashing around you in all directions, horns blaring, whole families (plus chickens and other goods) on the back.
It’s all very well doing online training modules, but to really be able to sell Asian river cruise it needs to be experienced. That experience can then be shared with your clients to entice them, inspire them, and to inform them of what to expect. There is no substitute for first-hand knowledge, particularly for a region as diverse and complex as Asia, and it is for that reason that I was absolutely delighted when Clia announced that the inaugural Asia River Cruise and Destination Forum would be held in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
The conference was set out over two days with keynote speakers, panels and speed training with sponsor suppliers, plus rooftop drinks with Scenic one night and a special dining experience with APT on the other. There was an overarching theme that now is the time to sell river cruise in Asia; it may still be a “hidden gem” (to use Giles Hawke’s term), but clients are hungry for something new, for unique experiences. Clia’s Andy Harmer reminded us that we are no longer talking about what amenities are available on ships, but how we can immerse ourselves in destinations. Keeping up with the Joneses is no longer about material possessions, it’s about sharing pinch-yourself moments. To use another of Andy’s phrases, people no longer want to sight-see, they want to sight-do – and Asia is the perfect place for that.
In Asia, rivers represent the lifeblood of communities. Explore a floating market and you’ll be discovering a floating city, and encounter the most welcoming and friendly people. An Asian river cruise has a wider appeal to both experienced river cruisers and non-cruisers, and presents an opportunity to engage with touring clients. It’s no wonder that 12 per cent of UK river cruisers are coming to Asia – a 20 per cent increase from 2015 to 2016.
When selling river cruise, it’s important to understand and fully appreciate the differentiation between ships and cruise lines (and between rivers). Kristen Karst of AmaWaterways, one of the keynote speakers, noted that in the last five years, river cruise has become even more differentiated, and Asian river cruise is more varied than its European counterparts.
Agents experienced this for themselves with three or four nights on a Mekong river cruise with either AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope, Pandaw or APT. We were even treated to the same experience enjoyed by APT clients with an exclusive dinner at Vietnam House, celebrity chef Luke Nguyen’s fine-dining restaurant. There really is no substitute for first-hand experience.