Travel Professional NEWS® speaks with Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President & Co-Owner, AmaWaterways
With 2017 upon us, what new things can we expect to see this year?
We’re very proud to be introducing our newest ship, the AmaKristina, set to sail on the Rhine starting April 1, 2017. The ship is specifically designed to cater to the multi-generational and group markets with connecting staterooms. Guests sailing onboard this innovative ship will have access to a greater number of AmaWaterways’ unique signature twin-balcony (French and outside balconies) staterooms, which provide magnificent panoramic views, as well as expanded fitness rooms and salon and massage areas on the lower deck.
Providing best-in-class service and authentic upscale travel experiences, we’re bringing more active adventure biking, walking and hiking journeys to the world’s most renowned European river cruise destinations. We’ve expanded our 2017 line-up of active river cruise departures in partnership with Backroads – the world’s #1 active travel company – by offering more the 50 sailings along the Danube, Douro, Rhine or Seine rivers. We have increased the hiking options for our guests on most European cruises and also will be introducing of a new Wellness Program, which will be previewed on three ships in 2017 with plans to roll out across the European fleet in 2018. The program involves refined menus, new group exercise options and nutritional information sessions with a dedicated coach.
We’ve enhanced our popular wine-themed cruise program with 46 hosted sailings in 2017 featuring immersive tours of Europe’s most famed wine regions. Travelers will embark upon unforgettable epicurean journeys aboard ships sailing along the Seine, Douro, Danube, Rhine and Rhône rivers. These wine cruises are hosted by qualified North American wine experts that lead onboard tastings and discussions, exclusive tours of local wineries and private cellars, and a variety of inspired food and wine pairings inspired by the region.
In 2017, AmaWaterways expanded its offering of Christmas Markets cruises to 29 departures along the Rhine and Danube rivers starting as early as November 20. Christmas Markets on the Danube offers guests 7-night cruises between Nuremberg and Budapest, with optional 2-night land extension in Prague. Christmas Markets on the Rhine offers guests 7-nights cruise between Amsterdam and Basel, with an optional 4-night land extension – 2-nights in Lucerne and 2-nights in Zurich.
What do you expect to be your most popular ships in 2017?
Our two most recent additions to the fleet, AmaStella and AmaViola introduced new stateroom configurations designed specifically to cater to the multi-generational family and group markets and are really flourishing. Their sister ship, AmaKristina, will be launched in April and we’re really looking forward to hearing our guests’ feedback on its features and décor. Overall, we are very encouraged by the bookings that we see coming in for 2017 throughout the fleet. We began seeing signs as early as September 2016 of a rebound in the demand for European travel and fortunately, the trend has continued.
Another very popular ship is The Zambezi Queen on the Chobe River in Africa. It is a much smaller ship and is already completely filled for 2017 and 2018 sailings are filling quickly.
Our top selling itineraries are the classic favorites: “Enchanting Rhine” and “Melodies of the Danube”. However, one other itinerary to highlight is our popular “Taste of Bordeaux” cruise. Launched just last year, this itinerary offers a memorable 7-night experience along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Travelers booking this unforgettable journey through France’s legendary wine region will have the opportunity to visit famous châteaux and vineyards – highlights include Roquetaillade Castle, a Grand Cru Classé wine tasting in Pauillac, an excursion at Château de Montaigne and more. Optional pre and post-cruise land extensions are available with panoramic city tours in Paris and additional château visits and wine tastings in the Loire Valley.
Our Christmas Markets cruises along the Rhine and Danube rivers have become increasingly more popular as have our spring Tulip Time Cruises. This 7-night itinerary, traveling roundtrip from Amsterdam between March 23 and April 27, 2017, provides our guests with a unique opportunity to admire the medieval cities of Antwerp and Ghent and discover the beauty of the country side and fascinating history of the Dutch and Belgian waterways.
With Travel Professionals on the rise, will you be offering any new training or incentives for Travel Professionals to focus on your line?
AmaWaterways has always placed a huge emphasis on training for the travel agent community. We have 17 BDMs leading in person training sessions as well as webinars. We continue to enhance the online tools available through our Travel Agent Portal on our website including a very user-friendly travel agent booking engine. Agents are also encouraged to complete the AmaWaterways certification on Travel Agent University which makes them eligible for bonus commission offers.
Product experience is so critical to appreciating the quality and differentiation of an AmaWaterways river cruise so we try to open up as many ways as possible to encourage agents to visit us onboard. Many Spring FAM dates are now open and dates for our onboard training program, “Seminar on The River”, will be opened by the end of February. In addition, we have launched a new ship inspection certificate program with bonus commission to welcome agents onboard if they happen to be in the area where one of our ships is sailing.
What three things do you feel set your product apart from the competition?
AmaWaterways is a family owned and operated business. Rudi Schreiner, myself and Gary Murphy are the co-owners of the company and we continue to be involved in the day-to-day decision making as well as forging the strategic direction for the future. This direct personal involvement in the business has earned AmaWaterways the reputation of a flexible, nimble travel partner able to react quickly to changing conditions or events and always acting in the best interest of our guests. This special family culture is reflected throughout the company and is especially strong with the genuine care and personalized service offered by our exceptional crews onboard.
We offer the very best in food and wine and our membership in “La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs” – a prestigious international gastronomic society dedicated to fine cuisine – ensures that our menus continue to evolve both in the main restaurant or in our specialty restaurant, The Chef’s Table, which offers our guests the option of enjoying a refined tasting menu in an intimate setting at no additional cost. Each year we review our menus and carefully select the different regional wines offered daily at lunch and dinner to truly compliment the dining experience and reflect the specialties of the regions being visited.
Additionally, we pride ourselves on innovation. Whether it is itinerary choices, ship design, stateroom configuration or choices of active shore excursions appealing to younger travelers, AmaWaterways has been recognized with many awards as a leader in all these areas. Rudi Schreiner pioneered our signature Twin Balcony – constituting a French balcony and an outside balcony – which he designed to maximize the enjoyment of river views and natural scenery under all different weather conditions.
There has been a big increase in active River Cruising, what activities are currently being offered on your line? What may be next?
Since starting AmaWaterways in 2002, we have paid special attention to providing healthy food options and active tour choices for our guests. We are the first river cruise line to carry more than two dozen bicycles and safety helmets, entirely complimentary for our guests. Whether guests feel like joining one of our exclusive guided bike tours, or want to go discover on their own, there are many ways for them to get some exercise by exploring on two wheels during our river cruises. In addition to our bike tours, we’ve also designed special hikes that will take guests a bit off the beaten path in some very beautiful settings. AmaWaterways also offers walking city tours for “Gentle Walkers” who’d like to explore at a more leisurely pace or “Active Walkers”, for those interested in covering more ground at a faster pace.
Next up is our new onboard Wellness Program which will offer even more healthy food choices and some new group exercise classes with a dedicated coach. We’ll be testing different options on three ships this summer in order to get our guests’ feedback before rolling out the final program across the European fleet in 2018. We listen to our guests and we want to be able to offer them different ways to continue practicing healthy, active lifestyles while on vacation with us.
What generational market do you see your line focusing on as the capacity continues to grow? Do you have plans to focus on any specific market segment of River Cruise passengers?
Given our focus on providing excellent food and wine choices and a wide range of included excursions at different activity levels, we see our prime target markets as being:
- Active lifestyle Baby Boomers who enjoy hiking and biking.
- Guests who appreciate good food and wine and consider both aspects an important part of experiencing the countries they visit.
- Multi-generational and Special Affinity groups that are attracted to the wide range of included excursions we offer and our willingness to customize excursions depending on the size of the group.
What three things would you like to share with our Travel Professionals to assist in selling your line?
We offer a variety of tools to best assist our travel partners but here are my three personal recommendations:
- Get your AmaWaterways certification from Travel Agent University (TAU) and please visit one of our ships – either with a ship inspection certificate or sign up for one of our Seminars on the River.
- Order as many free postcards as you like to send to your customers and share with them your excitement about river cruising with AmaWaterways.
- Call our Group Department and learn how easy and risk free it is to do groups with AmaWaterways.
Many Travel Professionals have found their niche in River Cruising, what advice can you offer to a Travel Professional looking to break into this niche?
Marketing support and training opportunities are very important but there’s no substitute for the confidence and expertise gained by experiencing firsthand a truly immersive river cruising experience. A Travel Professional brings true value to upscale clients when he or she is able to differentiate the river cruise product by river and region and clearly outline the different value, styles and services that each line offers in order to match your client’s lifestyle and priorities. I believe it is very important to work with a company that you trust will have your clients’ best interest at heart and that will help you build your relationship with the client before and after the cruise.
Predicting the future is difficult, but what do you think is next for the River Cruising market?
We see that our guests are looking for more personalized and specialized experiences when traveling and we believe that the diversity and uniqueness of the shore excursions will be a very important factor in the coming years. As river cruising has become better known, we’ve found it is attracting younger generations therefore we are confident that wellness programs and active options like biking and hiking will continue to grow in importance.