“We’ve been in this business a long time and we’ve been through challenges, not as big as COVID, but different world events that have impacted the business,” said Gary Murphy, co-owner and sr. v.p. of sales for AmaWaterways, during a virtual press conference the cruise line held this week, “and we recognize that when things settle, the business comes back quickly. And we know the best person to be working with is our travel advisor partners, because they know where the business is when it returns.”
During the virtual press conference, Murphy, along with AmaWaterways’ co-founders Rudi Schreiner, the river cruise line’s president, and Kristin Karst, the river cruise line’s executive v.p., touched on many topics, including when they think business will return, what the experience will be like when it does return, and why river cruising is one of the best products for travel advisors to recommend to their clients in this new travel landscape.
To make sure that they remain engaged with travel advisor partners—AmaWaterways has suspended its regular river cruising program in Europe, Asia and Africa through Sept. 30, 2020—the river cruise line has been holding virtual Sip & Sail Events, which, said Karst, touches on “different destinations, different rivers, new ship building projects, and, of course, health and safety protocols. It’s also an opportunity for travel advisors to invite their clients.
“It’s about engagement, inspiration, memories. We are not currently selling, but [these events] are planting the seeds, and that’s very important.”
Murphy added that, “the Q&A sessions on those calls demonstrate to us that a lot of people are looking at river cruising for the very first time. They are ocean-going cruisers and they are asking questions about river cruising that identify us as a new market.”
During the call, the executives stressed that they had kept AmaWaterways’ sales, reservations, and marketing team intact. “That’s what travel advisors are asking for,” said Murphy. In fact, Karst noted, “we have added new travel advisor partners; agents who have never booked with us before.”
New Venture & Safety Protocols
This downtime with U.S. passengers has allowed the river cruise line to venture along new paths. It’s the first U.S.-based river cruise company to launch 2020 river cruise sailings on the Rhine River. Sailings started on July 5 on one ship, the AmaKristina, with German-speaking clients. “This has been a remarkable opportunity for us because we are able to provide employment for our crew; we can put our safety protocols into practice—we enhance them every day—and we’ve have now opened up a local market that we had not tapped into before.”
As Karst mentioned, the sailings on board the AmaKristina have allowed the crew to practice the safety protocols and perfect them. Some of the health and safety protocols include face coverings, temperature checks, sanitized luggage, and social distancing. In fact, during the webinar media was shown a video of these sailings, with passengers on board, and we noticed plexiglass had been placed between seating areas in the lounge, the dining room was adhering to social distancing, and crew was wearing facemasks. There’s also plexiglass at the reception area, and there’s currently no entertainment with singers are on board.
Karst noted, too, that there’s now a room service menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner that guests can enjoy on their balcony. But, as Schreiner mentioned, “everything is still in development as we find out more and more about COVID-19.”
Most importantly, though, is what Karst noted: “Protocols have note diminished the pleasure of the delicious meals and waking up each morning in a different town and village to discover. Our crew and guests have been having a wonderful time together. Despite face coverings, the crew has discovered new ways to establish the warm connection with our guests using body language and hands to eloquently express their happiness.”
River cruising ultimately might prove to be the most resilient of vacation types when it comes to guest confidence regarding traveling during a pandemic. “If you look at European river cruising,” said Schreiner, “you are in an environment where you are pretty much outside in the spring, summer and fall, and even in the wintertime you can sit outside. Our ships have 80 percent balconies, and you can enjoy the fresh air, nature. It offers a small environment, and there are many choices when it comes to shore excursions—you can participate with groups, or you can take one of our bikes and into town on your own (Ama’s ships carry 25 bikes, while the AmaMagna has 50, including children’s bikes). Schreiner also mentioned that the future of luxury cruising includes the possibility of buffets going away, replaced with individual stations; and a focus on wellness and space, with even less passengers on board. “Over the last 25 years, the number of guests has really dropped; AmaMagna has double the space, but not with many more passengers, so we’ve increased the per person space on board.”
Schreiner admitted that although they’d love to be back on the river of Europe catering to U.S. travelers later this year, it’s up to EU restrictions and our case numbers. He does, however, see pent-up demand for 2021, and definitely 2022.
“We might not see the spring totally full from bookings because people today are looking more into the summer and fall, but I’m hopeful that by spring of next year we’ll be back on all of the rivers.”
He went on to say that the river cruise line is having a “wonderful booking period for 2021 and 2022. We opened up the 2022 season a couple of months ago; normally we wouldn’t do that until October, but we have had a lot of requests for people to move from 2020 to 2022. June was actually the strongest month ever for booking the next year, so partially some rebooking from 2020, but we also had strong numbers of new bookings, as well as good numbers for new groups.”
And as trends have been suggesting, the luxury market will be one of the first segments to rebound in travel and tourism, and they’ll be looking for new experiences that take them out of overly crowded tourism hotspots. Said Karst, “I think that luxury travelers are looking for trips to less-crowded destinations, and opportunities to be closer to nature, to be surrounded by fresh air, which comes with our options to go hiking and biking. What we see for next year is a very strong booking trend to these lesser-known destinations, including the Lower Danube, with countries like Romania and Bulgaria—they are experiencing some very strong booking trends.”
More Happenings for 2021
There’s a bit of excitement surrounding 2021 beyond just getting back to what is hoped will be a regular sailing season. The 68-guest AmaDahlia will be debuting in September, and noted Karst, “we’ve even added June in 2022. We initially wanted to stop cruising in June, July and August because of the heat, but the demand is so high that we added June. The staterooms are spacious, we have the chef’s table, and there’s plenty of outdoor space.” It’s a 7-night cruise Luxor to Luxor in combo with a Cairo program staying at the Four Seasons.
Also, Karst wanted to let the audience know that AmaKristina is being transferred to the Rhone River in 2021.
For more information, visit amawaterways.com/agent-login. For more on the river cruise line’s health and safety protocols, visit amawaterways.com/protocols, and to see the video showcasing AmaWaterways’ newly enhanced health & safety protocols, click here. For its travel updates, visit amawaterways.com/travel-updates.