Rob Huffman has been with The Scenic Group for only a few months, but, as he mentioned to us, he’s “worked very closely with the travel agent community for over 25 years. I absolutely understand and appreciate the true value our travel partners provide.” In fact, Huffman, the group’s v.p. of trade sales for the U.S. market, notes, “there’s nothing more important—NOTHING” than the travel agent community for the success of The Scenic Group.
“Having literally been raised in a travel agency—I myself am a product of parents who owned a successful travel agency in Memphis, Tennessee in the 70s and 80s—everything we have enjoyed in life is a result of my parent’s hard work and dedication to travel. From a professional perspective, my career has been exclusively dedicated to travel, so I know firsthand just how important the support and dedication from the travel agency community is to the success of any product.
“Our travel partners are unequivocally the single most important factor in determining the long-term success of The Scenic Group in the U.S. market and our number one goal as a company, and certainly my single highest priority, is to proactively and effectively engage with our travel partners,” he points out.
Doing all we can to ensure our partners are educated and trained on the brands, focusing on what truly sets us apart from our competitors. Additionally,
we will provide the necessary tools needed to successfully market, promote
and sell The Scenic Group brands on a daily, and more importantly,
profitable basis for the trade.
Why Book with The Scenic Group
“While we have only been active in the U.S. market for approximately five years, most agents find it encouraging that, as an Australian-based company, we have a deep and very successful history of providing upscale tour and cruise vacations to our guests for over 30 years,” Huffman says. So I asked Huffman what top-selling points and differentiators travel agents should have top of mind when it comes to The Scenic Group.
- “Because of our start as a tour company prior to entering the river cruise segment, a big differentiator we offer is the experience and knowledge to provide a truly unique, immersive and distinctive experience for our guests across both our Scenic River and Emerald Waterways brands.”
- “When sailing Scenic, our guests have the opportunity to enjoy our Scenic Enrich program. Our Enrich program offers exclusive experiences such as a classical concert and ballet performance in Vienna at the magical Palais Lichtenstein or enjoying a gala dinner and performance at the Pope’s Palace in Avignon.”
- “Aboard Emerald Waterways, our guests get to experience our Emerald Plus program, offering experiences including a home-hosted afternoon tea with a local Slovakian family or enjoying a private tour of the beautiful Melk Abbey in Austria.
- “Another primary example of an extremely important differentiator with our Scenic River brand, is the fact we are TRULY all-inclusive. ‘All-inclusive’ tends to be a term used frequently and rather loosely in our industry today. To put it into perspective, we don’t even ask for a credit card upon boarding.”
- “[One] of the most innovative and unique differentiators for Emerald Waterways has to be our heated pool, complete with retractable roof and bar. Not only is the pool large enough to actually swim laps, but on select evenings the pool area inventively transforms into a cinema where we offer a collection of classic and contemporary films! And even more importantly to our travel partners focused on selling groups, this provides the perfect setting for private cocktail parties and/or gatherings.”
Most certainly, our dedication and attention to providing a very special tour experience is one example of a differentiator.
What’s New at The Scenic Group
One of The Scenic Group’s most anticipated new product is the discovery yacht, Scenic Eclipse. In fact, says Huffman, “the excitement and anticipation from our travel agent partners is truly tangible…we hear this on a regular basis and actually see it every day in the way of new bookings!” The all-inclusive ship, which will have a maximum capacity of 228 guests, with 114 all-verandah suites, ranging in size from 345 sq. ft. to over 2,600 sq. ft., will feature 10 different dining options ranging from Asian fusion to French fine dining, a 6000-sq.-ft. spa, and a 1:1 guest-to-staff ratio. “We are beyond excited for her debut in August and delighted to have recently announced she will have a sister joining her in 2020 when a second vessel joins the fleet,” notes Huffman.
Scenic Eclipse II will embark on her maiden voyage from Athens to Lisbon, before the debut sailing season, which will include the European and Russian Arctic; the Northwest Passage; Southern Greenland; both coasts of Canada, the USA, Central and South America; a circumnavigation of Cuba; and several sailings that take in Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia.
Something else that should be on your radar is Scenic’s new partnership with National Geographic. Each Nat Geo sailing in 2018 and 2019 will be accompanied by a National Geographic expert who will enrich the experience through presentations and informal discussions; European cruises will also be joined by a National Geographic photographer, on board to share professional techniques and help guests hone their photography skills. The National Geographic River Cruises will have a menu of excursions to choose from, ranging from hikes and bike rides to in-depth learning experiences that focus on the natural world, culture and history.
It is so much more important these days that guests go home having ‘experienced’ a vacation instead of just going on one.
And an 11-day itinerary that combines a 5-day Nile sailing with six days exploring the region’s rich history is also now a bookable product with Scenic. “We are currently experiencing extremely high demand for our new Egypt program, so there is no doubt the interest is quite high,” says Huffman.
The Treasures of Egypt itinerary sails on the refurbished 36-passenger Sanctuary Sun Boat III, and takes guests roundtrip from Cairo with the cruise running between Luxor and Aswan. On board, guests are entertained by a belly dancer and whirling dervishes, and partake in a lively Galabeyya party, complete with appropriate costumes and Egyptian delicacies and music. Hotels included in the itinerary are the Mena House Hotel in Giza; the Sofitel Winter Palace in Luxor; the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract in Aswan; and the St. Regis in Cairo.
Not surprisingly, as tensions have remained relatively calm in the region for some time, there appears to have been a significant ‘pent-up demand’ for this particular destination. We offer a variety of options for this popular destination ranging in length from 10-20 days and encompassing both Egypt and Jordan, but they are selling quickly!
Who to Book?
You might be looking at Gen Xers and Millennials for future river cruise bookings, but Huffman says not so fast. “There is no question that river cruising is certainly becoming more popular, however, our primary demographic remains the Baby Boomer generation. I can’t necessarily say we are seeing an increase from Gen X or Millennial travelers, yet we are seeing more interest in multi-generational (families) and skip-gen (grandparents with grandchildren) travel.”
He adds that, “With the dramatic increase in marketing taking place across the river segment of our industry, it is not uncommon to hear your neighbors, friends and relatives sharing their recent river cruise experience or that they have a strong desire to go themselves. This certainly broadens our target audience resulting in a much larger opportunity. A Scenic River guest is typically someone who is well-traveled, enjoys a luxury, hassle-free experience. Perhaps they are past clients who have typically enjoyed a Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons resort. Maybe they have sailed on luxury ocean lines or perhaps a premium ocean experience, sailing in the higher category staterooms or suites.
“Our Emerald Waterways guests undoubtedly enjoy many of the same experiences as our Scenic guests, however, we find that they tend to be a bit younger and can be more active and enjoy the hiking and biking excursions that we offer. They certainly love the freedom to customize their experience to suit their particular pace or preference while receiving tremendous value at the same time. All while appreciating the many inclusions we offer, such as gratuities, transfers and a host of excursions and great meals. This tends to align with clients that have enjoyed the W Hotel experience or perhaps past premium ocean cruises,” says Huffman.