Sam Ballard meets Joseph Grimley, head of agency sales at Riviera Travel, which has grown to be the biggest river cruise company in the country in just a few years
“I’ve just celebrated my fifth year at Riviera Travel,” explains Joseph Grimley, the company’s head of agency sales. “We’ve come a long way with the trade since it was just me, my BlackBerry, car, desk and laptop. In fact, I’ve just recruited my fifth team member – Tamzin Bishop – and sales through agents are continuing at a rate of knots.
“The agency sales team are a fantastic and diverse group who share a passion for our products and complement one another really well.”
Founded in Burton-on-Trent in 1984 by Michael Wright, the rise of the escorted touring specialist has been nothing short of meteoric. The company didn’t even get into the cruise industry until 2009 and only started selling through the trade in 2012. It is now both the biggest escorted tour operator and biggest river cruise company in the country.
Grimley’s role has expanded massively. The company, which started off by advertising in newspapers, saw its 2017 travel agent sales increase by 60 per cent year-on-year.
There are various factors behind Riviera’s success. For one, the company has maintained an air of Britishness, which it takes pretty seriously. It even flies in bags of PG Tips to each of its 12 vessels. However, for the increasing number of people who are taking a Riviera Travel cruise, it is like an industry secret. Prices are noticeably lower than other ships of the same grade (Riviera says all but one of its ships are five star) because the company strips back its offering, allowing guests to personalise their holiday to suit their own taste. Gratuities are not included and neither is alcohol with dinner. In reality these extras are paid for when they’re included anyway, Riviera argue, and when it comes to alcohol the guests who only have one glass of wine per day with their meal subsidise the bar bill of the heavy drinkers.
An interesting turn is that Riviera is now offering pre-bookable drinks packages on board its river itineraries, something it’s never done before and is sure to be popular with those who do like a more inclusive offering.
The company’s recently launched 2018 Cruise Collection brochure – which it produced exclusively for agents – is the first time it has published its ocean and river product together. Those itineraries include sailings on the transatlantic liner Queen Mary 2 and Royal Clipper, the tall sailing ship. It is available to order through Trade Gate.
New offerings on its river fleet – with new ship for 2018 MS Robert Burns – include a 14-day Budapest to Black Sea itinerary and a Christmas Markets cruise in December.
For Grimley, however, the success of Riviera’s increased offering comes from the effort his team puts into engaging with agency partners and investing in the trade.
“We will be taking agents out to Cologne to experience the Emily Brontë in June, and also hosting agents onboard the Emily Bronte at the Clia River Cruise convention in Amsterdam in November,” he says. “The feedback we get from travel agents is phenomenal and customers are coming back to us time and time again. In February 2017, we were the only river cruise company to be awarded the prestigious Which? Recommended Provider status.
“It all goes to show how far we’ve come in five short years.”