Viking’s Neil Barclay: River ships are like boutique hotels

Viking’s Neil Barclay: River ships are like boutique hotels

Following on from our Ex-UK guide in December, Cruise Adviser’s River special for 2015-16 is launching in print next week.

The magazine is going out to travel agents up and down the country (to request a copy email:  In the mean time, here is a snippet from the upcoming guide. 

Neil Barclay, head of sales for Viking – one of the few lines to offer river and ocean cruises – explains to us the difference between the two and how to sell the former.

City breakers
“The bottom line is that river cruising is more destination focused. Not everyone who walks through an agent’s door will want a river cruise, but some people will want a series of city breaks. We find that a lot of people have already been to Europe by coach, years and years ago, or they went independently – they either camped or took a motorhome – and they’re just looking for something different. With a customer who comes in looking for a city break or asking for a lakes and mountains holiday, you can actually say, ‘Have you ever thought about a river cruise?’
“We’re not trying to make money from people by having endless days at sea. The fact is, you’re in a different town or city every night and sometimes you have overnight stays – so you can experience it like a local. Other days, you’re sitting on board and you’ve got a talk about these places you’re going to – or you’re sat on deck with a glass of wine watching this great scenery go by.”

Ocean movers
“What we’re finding is that a lot of people are moving on from ocean cruising over to river. That’s down to one of two reasons: firstly, they’ve done basically every itinerary that’s out there and they want to do something a bit closer to home, and want to see a bit more of the country. The second thing is, customers who get a reasonable price for an ocean cruise sometimes then find there are all these extras, which defeat the purpose of a low-price cruise in the first place.

“The main thing we are trying to get over is that with river cruises there’s so much included in the cost. The tag price – the price we sell to the customer – may be higher than what you pay for an ocean cruise, but when you think about the inclusions – which are daily excursions, your drinks, your lunch and dinner, your lectures onboard and your free wifi – they make a huge difference.”

Stay another day
“At the start and end points of the majority of our itineraries, you’ve got an overnight stay. For example, in Budapest you’ve got a day and a half there. The difference between ocean and river cruises is that you’re docked right in heart of town. Within ten minutes of coming off the ship you’re right in the centre of Budapest. You’re not waiting on tenders – everyone is off the ship within five minutes.

“Even where we don’t have overnight stays, you tend to find you have quite a long time at ports. You might find that you’re visiting one town in the morning, then doing a bit of scenic cruising, and then you arrive in another town late afternoon and you’re there until midnight or one in the morning. That means you can just step ashore and have a wander around.

Budapest: one of the top destinations for European river cruises

“You do get a lot of customers that are thinking, ‘Well is it going to be up at 8 o’clock in the morning, on the tour, and back?’ – that it’s going to be quite functional – but there is a massive degree of flexibility.

“If there are customers out there who want to be independent, and they’re in, say, Vienna, and they just want to go off and wander on their own they can do, because they know they can get back to the ship as they know there’s no hour-and-a-half bus in and out of town.”

Luxury travel
“We’re trying to get away from the misconception that river cruises, in general, are going to be on small, box-like ships. Actually, they’re like boutique hotels.
“The money that’s been spent on ships in terms of advancements makes a huge difference. When we’ve taken travel agents out they’re overwhelmed from the minute they get on board with the crew, especially on our ships, where there’s a lot of marble and understated Norwegian elegance, and it’s all very casual and
relaxed. I think that’s what draws the agents and the customers in.”

Euro vision
“In terms of launching on new rivers, there’s more capacity now coming out of Southeast Asia, but we find people want the mainstay rivers – the Danube, the Rhine – and that’s where we’re adding capacity to cope with demand. We’ve also found the Douro in Portugal is very popular. Everyone talks about Vietnam and Myanmar, and we’ve got a presence there, but our bread-and-butter itineraries are where we need the capacity, which is over in Europe.
“When we go in to ocean [sister company, Viking Ocean Cruises, begins sailing in May] it’s following exactly the same format, in terms of inclusion and being in the centre of a city as possible.”

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