Janet Parton column: the rise of river cruise

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Clia recently announced the latest river cruise results, and the good news is that the market continued to grow at a healthy pace in 2018.

Over 230,000 British and Irish passengers took a river cruise in 2018 – an increase of 10 per cent on the previous year. The market shows no sign of slowing down, making the profit potential attractive to agents.

Why should river cruise be the focus for agents in 2019?

There is a great earning potential. Travel agents can earn excellent commission. It’s a profitable product to sell with average booking values in the region of £6,000.

Repeat business. Once someone tries a river cruise for the first time, they are highly likely to try other rivers and, in turn, they are likely
to come back to you, the agent.

Breadth of destinations. The 2018 river cruise results saw a rise in Asia river cruises at six per cent, with the Mekong and the Yangtze seeing the highest growth. These are great if you are designing bespoke long-haul itineraries for customers. It is a fantastic option to add on a cruise element to a larger trip. Africa saw growth of 17 per cent with the Nile growing by 21 per cent year on year. With Egypt having been off-limits for a period of time, it’s great to see demand.

River cruise is great for first-timers. Don’t presume that people have to have been on an ocean cruise to want to sail the rivers! Cruising on rivers is a different kettle of fish to ocean cruising. The Rhine and the Danube attributed to 58 per cent of all European river sales in 2018 – both are destinations which are great for first timers. With the number of capital cities that hug the banks of the Danube, it’s great for guests who like city breaks.

If destination, commission and repeat business can’t convince agents to get behind river cruise, there’s more. River cruise lines are consistently evaluating the onboard and on shore elements to ensure that the highest standards are met. Wellness and culinary options are becoming bigger factors in the river cruise experience, increasing the appeal.

The challenge for travel agents is to really understand the differences between each cruise line. In a sector where cruise lines offerings seem to be similar, it’s important to hone into the specifics of what the cruise line can offer. Not just in terms of what is included in the fare, but also the less tangible items: service, crew to guest ratio and, more importantly, their sustainability initiatives. River cruise lines are really championing this with many proactively reducing their environmental footprint from reduced fuel consumption, water savers and water filtration systems. At Avalon we have recently partnered with The Ocean Cleanup to help clean the world’s oceans from plastic, this is in addition to our commitment to eliminate all single use plastics across our operation by 2020.

As the Clia report shows, river cruise popularity is growing and now is the time to drill deeper into the sector. With nearly a quarter of a million passengers now travelling annually, if you’re not selling river cruise – you’re missing the boat!

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