Last updated: 12:30 PM ET, Wed March 30 2016

Rivers Of Opportunity

Tips and strategies on how you can build your river cruise business.

Agent@Home | Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Robin Amster

Rivers Of Opportunity


Sandy Anderson, like countless other agents, has tapped into the growing and immensely popular river cruise niche. Anderson, of Riverdale Travel in Coon Rapids, Minn., has a simple piece of advice for agents who want to enter this niche as well as boost their existing business.

“Our river cruise business started simply with asking, ‘Have you ever thought of taking a river cruise?’ Suggest it! Suggest river cruising to customers who enjoy cruising and want to try Europe, particularly first-timers to Europe,” she says. Suggesting a river cruise, however, is just one of many steps. Following is a rundown of tips and strategies from travel counselors and executives from agency groups that will help build your river cruise business.


“Targeting your database for cruise clients who have already sailed to Europe and sending them a personalized email about river cruising is always a great idea, as is planning a n informative cruise event specific to river cruising,” says Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group.

READ MORE: River Cruising Sets Sail for Millennials

Cathie Fryer of CTA Travel in Cerritos, Calif., advises agents to query their databases for clients who have traveled to Europe on land packages. “These clients are perfect for river cruising,” she says. “Select a few river cruise sailings – Danube or Rhine are the best for firsttime river cruises – with specials, and send an email to offer another way to explore Europe,” she says.


“When someone who has never been to Europe says they want to go there, and if they are looking to travel without kids and they are in their 40s or older, I suggest a river cruise as a great opportunity to see multiple places with ease,” says Jamie Scheff of Trippin’ with Jamie in Herndon, Va. “Stress gourmet meals, tours in every location and not having to constantly pack and unpack.”

HOST A RIVER CRUISE-THEMED EVENT. Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, suggests working in partnership with business development managers (BDMs) and river cruise partners to create events that will enable past clients to learn more about river cruising or specific destinations.

“We encourage our agents to partner with a local venue that might have a similar clientele,” she says. “The BDM might pay for a portion of the event, but the restaurant might cut a deal too in order to bring more people to its establishment, hence future customers for them as well.”

BROADEN YOUR SALES PITCH. “As the river cruise market matures and suppliers do more to differentiate their products ‘selling river’ is not enough,” says Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of the Signature Travel Network.

“I believe the biggest opportunity for consultants is to broaden the way they sell to their potential river cruise customers,” he says. “Consultants need to truly understand the nuances of inclusions, itinerary, décor, target market, etc., to effectively sell river. If they don’t, they will probably not get that customer back.”

CAPITALIZE ON CLIENTS’ EXPERIENCES. “People value the recommendations of others and truly value the recommendations of their friends the most,” says John Lovell, president of . “Leverage people who might have river cruised before with you.

Lovell recommends agents do that by encouraging these clients to host a mini river-cruise night in their home. “You supply the wine, some food and if the river cruise representative can attend, even better,” he says. “Have your clients do a lot of the talking about their past experience. Reward them with a cabin if a certain amount sells.”

FOCUS ON SELLING GROUPS. Susan Gannon, senior director, marketing and development, cruise products for Ensemble Travel Group, recommends that agents talk to family and friends about their hobbies. “Does someone belong to a wine club, a church choir, a gardening group, a bike club? Then look for a river cruise itinerary that matches and set up a group using the club as a key part of your promotion,” says Gannon.

Don’t wait for the business to come to you. “Be creative and aggressive. Choose a shoulder season date with a preferred supplier, take out a group contract with the supplier, get a group contract for air and bundle your trip with the additional savings so it’s attractively priced,” says Wes Rowland of   in Visalia, Calif. “Then target your prospects with an all-inclusive deal.”

Karen Gurley of Athena Travel, Laurel, Md., suggests setting up the group early, promoting it at least one-anda-half to two years prior to departure.

“Encourage clients to book and deposit early because there are a limited number of staterooms on each ship and you want them to have the opportunity to choose the category and stateroom they prefer,” she says.


Travel advisors and agency group executives suggest that agents educate themselves on river cruises by experiencing the products they sell.

“My number-one recommendation is to get yourself, and your frontline and high-volume outside sales agents on river cruises ASAP,” says Katherine Rosevear of Travel Leaders in Plymouth, Mich. “Clients are curious about them and they just need someone to reassure them that they are as good as they sound.”

Agents also have to learn to “clearly articulate the difference between river cruising and ocean cruising to [their] current ocean cruisers,” says Phil Swartz of Holiday Cruises & Tours in Tallahassee, Fla. That means explaining the ease of embarkation and debarkation, the focus on the local culture and that shore excursions are included in the cost.

“Given that there are now three river cruise lines advertising on television, every agent needs to become familiar with those three,” says Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group. “At a minimum, agents should be familiar enough with those three river cruise lines to be able to compare and contrast the various lines for their clients and prospects.”


You may use your Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook information, including your name, photo & any other personal data you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on Click here to learn more.

Agent@Home Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the March 2016 issue of Agent@Home Magazine.