Themed river sailings ‘key’ to attracting new-to-cruise market, say operators

Matching a customer’s interests to a river cruise is “key” to persuading them to take their first sailing, operators have said.

A-Rosa River Cruises’ managing director for the UK and Ireland Lucia Rowe highlighted the value of agents getting to know their customers and discovering their hobbies and passions so they can match them with a themed sailing.

Addressing delegates at Clia’s 2024 Riverview conference in Amsterdam, Rowe said themed cruises show the “incredible value” of the river cruise sector, particularly to the new-to-cruise market, saying it is up to agents to show customers “there is a river cruise for everyone.”

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“Themed cruises are huge,” said Rowe. “Offering food, wine and active participation cruises is tapping into people’s hobbies.

“People are interested in so much more than their work and collapsing on the beach – they love spending their time in a meaningful way.

“This is a product that aims to please city breakers, adventurers, explorers, golf lovers, runners, movers and people who love to see the world.”

She added: “Research shows people are moving away from beach holidays because they are moving to city breaks and every single one of you [agents] has customers like this on file; it’s just about doing that match exercise and understanding which river cruise is right for which customer.”

Her views were echoed by Nick Hughes, director of sales, partnership and strategic growth for Scenic and Emerald Cruises UK & Ireland, who urged agents to use themed cruises to “hook” customers who had aligning interests, saying themed cruises are a valuable way to captivate the new-to-cruise market.

“Themed cruises attract first time cruisers and once they cruise on river, they come back,” he said.

“It’s important for us to look at the interests of our potential customers and to tempt them on our product by trying to encapsulates those interests.”

Phil Hullah, Riviera Travel chief executive, said the operator “hasn’t themed much” in the past, but has added eight themed sailings to its 2025 programme to target the new-to-cruise market.

“We haven’t done much theming before but we’ve got some in 2025 as that could be a growth area for us.”

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