Seabourn’s Lynn Narraway and Uniworld’s Kathryn Beadle consider the endless benefits of luxury cruising and the differences between ocean and river-going ships
For many travel agents, the luxury sector is like the Holy Grail: sought by many but ever elusive. Ask those who have specialised in luxury and they will often tell you the same thing: knowledge is power.
Think luxury cruising and most people’s first reaction would be the ocean lines. However, the recent renaissance of river cruising means there are new operators on the block. That extra choice is great news for everyone from agents through to customers. But, how do you know if your customer would prefer one over the other? We asked Lynn Narraway, the UK managing director of Seabourn, and Kathryn Beadle, the UK managing director of Uniworld, to explain more.
Lynn Narraway, UK managing director of Seabourn
Cruise Adviser: What kind of traveller would suit a luxury cruise?
Lynn Narraway: We look to attract an industry-wide luxury traveller. Not someone who is necessarily already cruising, but who is already very used to luxury travel – often long-haul, upscale holidays. We think the potential is there for Seabourn to attract a guest who buys into other luxury brands.
So, rather than attracting ‘aspirational cruisers’ from a four-star brand, you see business coming more from other luxury holiday companies?
LN: I think so, and that is an easier sell in many ways for travel agents. We still get those aspirational passengers – who are buying suites on other lines – and often, once you factor in the onboard costs of a four-star line, Seabourn isn’t as expensive as people first think. However, we believe that the opportunity to grow is by looking beyond other cruise lines.
What tips would you have for travel agents who want to break into the luxury cruise market?
LN: If you look at the Seabourn Academy it really goes into a lot of detail about who the luxury traveller is and how to start talking to them. It’s all about service and making yourself an expert. You need to be so knowledgeable about the sector that you become part of your client’s journey when they are booking a holiday. Once you are at that stage, you will know when they want to book, where they want to go – you will be part of their calendar. A luxury client often doesn’t have the time to arrange their own holiday, they want an expert who is flexible and knows to get those business-class flights and change their arrangements if they need to.
How travel agent friendly is Seabourn?
LN: A majority of our business comes through the trade. We need travel agent partners who can start the Seabourn journey for us with excellent service. We know that once they are on the ships the level of service is impeccable so we need agents to extend that from the very start of the process right the way through to the bottle of champagne when they arrive back home.
What is Seabourn’s unique selling point?
LN: It’s unique personalised luxury.
Kathryn Beadle, UK managing director of Uniworld
CA: Why do you think some travel agents don’t sell river cruise?
Kathryn Beadle: River cruising can be confusing. Most of the ships look fairly similar – there are nuances – but each hold around the same amount of guests compared to ocean cruise. So the real differences are in the service levels and the furnishings. Agents need to understand the brands to know what the differences are. There’s an enormous opportunity for agents. The average values are high and commissions are often higher than ocean cruise as well. Guest satisfaction levels are enormous. However, just like travel agents booking it, customers take a bit more coercion to take a river cruise. It’s my job to educate the trade and it is beholden on them to convince the customer that it’s a product they want to buy.
For an agent who’s starting out in river cruise, who’s looking at luxury, what are the difference between ocean and river?
KB: It’s a different proposition. With ocean cruising it can be a more sedentary experience. You will always have sea on one side of you! The experience – or the destination – is in fact the ship itself. With river you are never on the periphery of a destination, you are always in the heart. A river is nearly always the main artery of a country so you are experiencing the life of a country through its river. You get to see a number of countries on a luxury hotel – rather than a resort – with fine service, food, fixtures and fittings.
How can a travel agent spot a luxury river customer?
KB: They tend to be 55-plus, people who may have taken a luxury cruise but more likely a long-haul trip to Asia or somewhere similar. They could also have taken a lakes and mountains holidays. It might not be customers who are in your database – so go out and find them in places like golf clubs. They are typically active, older and have a decent disposable income. Quite a lot like travelling together too and we offer fantastic group rates. My advice would be to take one date and promote it to your local U3A group, theatres, music or wine society.
Do you have a tip for selling Uniworld?
KB: I think it is about learning all of the differences between the lines. With Uniworld we are very boutique and ornate. Our service levels are second to none and one of our key unique selling points, which I’m not sure if anyone else has, is that we source all of our food and drink locally. So, each day there is a dish that is local – as well as wine – so it is an authentic experience for the customer. And, because we are all inclusive we
are aware that our customers don’t have to put their hand in their pocket. All of their food, drink and shore excursions are included. So by sourcing food locally we are giving something back to local communities.
What is Uniworld’s unique selling point?
KB We are the only luxury boutique river cruise line.