Pitch Perfect session tackles river and small-ship cruising

FORT LAUDERDALE — The right product for a couple in their 30s with an interest in art and history. How to accommodate grandparents sailing with their grandkids. How cruise lines are incorporating diversity into their marketing materials.

Executives for river and small-ship ocean cruise lines were in the hot seat for a live selling session at CruiseWorld on Thursday, offering reasons why their product is the best fit for various clients and troubleshooting how to approach travel predicaments. 

The session was moderated by top-selling advisors Stephen Scott, founder and CEO of Travel Hub 365 and Lisa Fitzgerald, founder of Fitzgerald Travel.

Selling to a an active couple

Asked by Scott to pitch why their cruise line is the best for an active married couple in their 30s who have degrees in art or teach history, Kristen Steele, vice president of national and key accounts for Avalon Waterways, touted the brand’s Active and Discovery itineraries.

“On Avalon, and I think all of us on all of our ships here can tell you that over the years we’ve seen a demographic skew a little younger,” she said. She said she would put the couple on an Active and Discovery itinerary on the Seine River, noting the history buff could appreciate Normandy and other historical destinations while the partner with the art degree would appreciate Monet’s garden in Giverny, France. 

Janet Bava, Windstar Cruises’ new chief commercial officer, pitched the small-ship ocean cruise line, noting its ships include a water platform for the couple to play at. Tahiti would be her top recommendation after having recently sailed there on the Wind Spirit, she said.

“It was wonderful to see how many young couples were already onboard,” she said. 

While Europe holds history and culture, she said French Polynesia and Tahiti have a long history rich in culture in opportunities to learn about the people who call the islands home.

Meeting the groups challenge

Another scenario asked executives how their brands would help meet the diverse interests of people in groups that have different physical ability levels.  

Bruce Metzendorf, North America sales director for Riviera River Cruises, stressed that the river cruise market is not necessarily aimed at older demographics like it used to be. 

“Whether you’re in your 30s or you’re in your 70s, there’s going to be plenty to do,” he said. People who are more physical can ride bikes the ship keeps onboard. Meanwhile, the tours offered can be taken at a regular or gentle pace. “You’re going to get that same experience, just at your own pace,” he said. 

Onboard with grandchildren

The next question asked how the line would arrange accommodations for grandparents taking their grandchildren ages 9 and 13 with them on a Christmas market cruise. 

“We see the value in creating these experiences, these memories to guests of all ages that they will share for the rest of their lives,” said Alex Pinelo, of AmaWaterways.  He said all the line’s ships have connecting staterooms, triple staterooms and quadruple staterooms that cater to families. He said he’d also recommend the AmaMagna, which has a pickleball court. 

Christmas market cruises for 2024 are almost sold out at Amadeus River Cruises, said Marcus Leskovar, executive vice president of the line.

“Amadeus River Cruises has seen the Christmas market cruises … exploding since the pandemic, really. They’re actually one of our best sellers,” he said. 

He said the line recommends guests be at least 12 years old, although exceptions can be made. He said the line offers adjoining rooms and the fare for children comes at a 30% discount. 

Diversity in marketing

When asked by Fitzgerald what the lines were doing to reflect diversity in their marketing, Bava pivoted the conversation to how Windstar is adding diversity by hiring more people of color. 

As a Latina born in Cuba, she said, she asked the cruise line’s president after she was hired what they were doing to ensure diversity inclusion and was told that Windstar has the first black female captain. 

“This is not just about putting people of color in your brochure,” she said. “I think us travel advisors and travel partners and suppliers need to be asking ourselves, who are we hiring and who are we putting in leadership positions that are diverse, that don’t look like the traditional.” 

Pinelo said AmaWaterways is “walking the talk” when it comes to diversity and inclusivity in marketing materials, advertising and videos. The line has also curated special voyages that focus on Black heritage, Black history and Black culture, he said. The line hosted its inaugural Soulful cruise in August on the Rhone River. 

“I have to say it was amazing. And now, as a result, we’re going to have four Soulful experience cruises in 2024” and five in 2025, he said to applause. “But aside from the great marketing, it’s also important to embrace Black communities and Black influencers that really cater to the black communities.”

Water levels, on the level

Asked how to talk to clients about high and low water levels, Leskovar told agents, “Don’t be afraid.” Look for ships with a low draft, he said. But in the case that the river is so high it cannot sail under a bridge or so low it cannot get through, Amadeus will transfer guests to another ship that will pick them up on the other side of the obstruction, he said. If the water level situation is very difficult, he said, the line will cancel the cruise and give guests the option to rebook or get refunds. 

While one of Riviera River Cruises’ recourses is to move guests to an alternate ship for a different cruise experience that doesn’t have low waters, Metzendorf said the most important thing to convey to clients is that less than 1% of all river cruises are canceled or have an issue due to low water. 

“It’s such a small number that when you put it in the big perspective of everything else … it’s not something you need to worry about. Yes, we know what happens,” he said. “That number, I think, is the best way to convey that message to your clients.”

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