From blue waters to rivers, Joni Rein, former v.p. of worldwide sales for Carnival Cruise Line, is now the v.p. of sales and marketing USA for Scenic Cruises. Before heading into the office, Rein embarked on a whirlwind 8-day immersion program—sailing on the Scenic Amber and touring the Scenic Ruby and Emerald Sky—where she got her first taste of the onboard and offshore offerings, and top-notch service that has kept Scenic in business for 30 years.
We spoke with an elated Rein, who has been with Scenic (and Emerald Waterways) for about three-and-a-half weeks, to get the scoop on her transition, the Scenic and Emerald products, and what’s on the horizon for both.
Melissa Bryant (MB): What was your first river cruise like?
Joni Rein (JR): I come from blue water, and so being on the river cruise I had the experience of not just comparing them but the entire tempo of the cruise. Everything about it was so different—you know the difference of sailing in the ocean versus an elegant journey down a European river while you’re watching the community. It’s like a full immersion. There are three big distinctions: no lines, no waiting, no tendering.
And then just the guest-to-staff ratio on Scenic, it’s incredible. You’re going from thousands to just over 100; it’s completely different. And I would say that the guest demographic is very important, so meeting other guests becomes an activity in and of itself. I was observing and watching as guests were meeting one another, and talking over cocktails and really regaling over their journeys. I was pretty impressed with how well traveled the guests were and the extent of their travels over the years. And I think the thing that was most compelling was that they all shared an interest in travel, international travel and adventure; and those were the kind of themes that I was picking up from the guests.
MB: How are you adapting the way you market to the river cruising clientele seeing that your past experience was with big ships?
JR: I think the products are extremely different, so much so that there’s probably very little similarity. The marketing approach for the U.S. market for Scenic is it’s a luxury six-star product, and so the marketing, the look, the feel, there’s a sort of understated elegance that goes throughout the branding of the Scenic product and actually that goes right from the initial marketing and translates through the call center and then ultimately once guests get on board. There’s this seamless brand awareness that’s taking place. We really try from the marketing perspective, as well as the call center, and then on board to really wow and delight and have whatever your engagement level is at Scenic U.S. to be very much about a total experience. You’re wowed and delighted and then you get on the ship and it’s that much better. That is our goal.
Our marketing is designed to engage and bring awareness to river cruising and the extraordinary luxury that can take place while river cruising internationally. I think that the look and feel of the branding, as I said, gives you that feel of luxury.
MB: What is Scenic Cruises’ target demographic?
JR: While we don’t necessarily reach to any one demographic, I can tell you that our guests are very affluent, have a propensity to travel multiple times to Europe per year, probably skewing right now the baby boomer generation, and I would say venture ranks very, very high for them.
MB: Knowing that Scenic Cruises’ main demographic is baby boomers, how are you appealing to emerging river cruising markets, such as millennials and families?
JR: I think right now it’s an extraordinary time for river cruising in general. And I think that there are many different suppliers in the space. For Scenic, we’re in the six-star luxury [segment]. Our piece of the pie is right where we want it, but with that said, we’re constantly keeping up with where we need to be to remain relevant in the marketplace, but millennials are not our target.
We gladly welcome children that are 13 years of age or older, because they are adults-ish, but they don’t change the dynamic on board the ship, which is very important. Our branding, what we deliver, we’re extraordinary at that, and so we want to continue to deliver and build on that concept versus trying to be all things to all people.
MB: Tell me about how Scenic Cruises sets itself apart from its competitors.
JR: Scenic prides itself in [being the first]. The river cruise guarantee is really one where especially in the U.S. market, consumers, when they’re looking at the opportunity of perhaps taking their first river cruise, we don’t want them to be concerned about any high water/low water issues, so we take that right off the table with our guarantee.
In addition, we have opened up our own operations on the Douro River. We’re the only river cruising company that has made that investment in both the port infrastructure, setting up an office there, and managing and operating our own fleet on our own port space. We think that’s pretty powerful. We made that conscious decision after doing our due diligence and realizing that we wanted full control over our product and the delivery of the product, so that’s a pretty big investment for Scenic.
MB: What do river cruising clients have to look forward to in the future with Scenic Cruises?
JR: We have our world’s first Discovery Yacht. Also, we are celebrating our 30th birthday this year, so for 30 years our family-owned business has been operating. We’re running a contest for our travel agent friends; the winner is going to win a $20,000 trip on the Scenic Eclipse. We’re pretty excited about that. We’ve had an incredible response when we launched it [Nov. 3]…the contest is going to run through the end of April.
MB: What are some of Scenic’s more popular cruises?
JR: I think for Scenic, Bordeaux, I think the Douro, the Rhine River, and the Danube; and then they get a little more exotic with Asia and the Mekong, so it really depends on what your interest is and the migration of a past guest of Scenic. You probably do the more common itineraries before you explore the adventure of Asia. People generally will take two of the four before migrating to a more exotic itinerary.
MB: Jumping to Emerald Waterways, what can agents expect to see in 2017?
JR: For Emerald, we’re going to increase capacity from four ships to seven next year, which is a pretty significant growth. I would put Emerald into the contemporary category. There will be more millennials on Emerald than there is on Scenic.
The hardware and software for both products is actually designed quite beautifully. There’s a real eye to detail on the design and the furnishings on board. On the Emerald Sky, for example, I was amazed at some of the cleverness that was used to have space be repurposed throughout the day. For example, on the back of the ship there is an endless lap pool, but in the morning when you first go to that area it’s an exceptional place to just be on your iPad, reading the paper, sipping a cup of coffee and it’s almost like a tranquil spa. And as the day progresses it then becomes a swimming pool with a retractable roof, and then as night falls there are group cocktails taking place because there’s a cover for the swimming pool, so it’s now a dance floor, and then as the evening continues it becomes a cinema.
MB: One of the big draws to a Scenic and Emerald Waterways cruise are the shore excursions. Can you tell me how they differ between brands?
JR: Our shore excursions [on Scenic], which are all included, have different activity levels and I would call them leisurely, moderate and high energy. So regardless of where you fit in your daily exercise routine, there’s something within the free shore excursion choice.
I don’t see a lot of people in the gym, but I did see a lot of the guests were into the much more active pursuits—the hiking, the bicycling, all of those things. I think we have a keen eye to that and we’re watching and making sure that our onboard and off-board experiences meet those requirements of the guest.
As far as the shore excursion [go on the Emerald Waterways side], they might even be more diversified for activity than on the Scenic. There’s a lot of choices for sure, depending on what your desire is, people will typically do their research before they leave to understand what area they are going to visit. So they’re very focused when they get on board and they know with precision what they want to see when they are on the sailing. It makes choosing your shore excursions that much more important and that much more simple, because you’re not overwhelmed at the lecture with all the different excursions.
For more information, visit scenicusa.com.