Travel Professional NEWS® speaks with Lisa Norton, Vice President of Brand Management, Emerald Waterways
With 2017 upon us, what new things can we expect to see this year?
Emerald Waterways will be launching three new Star-Ships in 2017, the Emerald Destiny on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers; the Emerald Radiance on the Douro River and the Emerald Liberté that will sail Southern France on the Rhône and Saône rivers. We’re really excited to be almost doubling our capacity in just 4 years of operation.
What do you expect to be your most popular ships in 2017?
We don’t really expect to have a “most popular” ship per se, as all of our ships are identical in amenities, cabin sizes, and service. The Emerald Liberté and the Emerald Radiance are different in that they’re smaller due to the restrictions of the rivers – the Emerald Liberté will carry just 138 guests while the Emerald Radiance will carry just 112. The amenities on the Emerald Liberté will be identical to the other ships while the Emerald Radiance will vary slightly due to its smaller size.
What do you expect to be your most popular itineraries in 2017?
The Douro River itinerary is clearly our most popular as it is already almost completely sold out for 2017 – this is partly due to the fact that with its smaller size there is less capacity but I believe it’s also because Portugal is seeing resurgence in interest. Of course the Danube River is always very popular, particularly for first time river cruisers.
With Travel Professionals on the rise, will you be offering any new training or incentives for Travel Professionals to focus on your line?
We are updating our Emerald Specialist online training program where Travel Professionals can go to become certified to sell Emerald Waterways. Once they become certified and make a booking they will receive a gift card as a token of our appreciation. We are also working on the launch of an Emerald Waterways rewards program where points will be awarded for bookings and can be redeemed for a variety of items. We expect to see this launched in the 2nd quarter of this year. Our Regional Sales Managers are all focused on providing training to travel professionals – if anyone is uncertain who their local Sales Manager is, this can be found in our agent portal on our website.
What three things do you feel set your product apart from the competition?
- Onboard amenities that include a heated indoor/outdoor swimming pool that converts to a cinema in the evening on all ships, with the exception of the Emerald Radiance
- A cohesive, happy staff and crew who work hard to please our guests and return year after year, ensuring smooth sailing from season to season.
- A fully inclusive fare which still allows for customization – all the key components of the tour are included – transfers; tours in each port; special excursions with EmeraldPLUS; beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner; personal listening devices while on tours; all English speaking staff and crew; all gratuities on and off the ship! Additional tours, drinks packages, health and wellness packages are available for purchase.
There has been a big increase in active River Cruising, what activities are currently being offered on your line? What may be next?
In 2017 we will be expanding our EmeraldACTIVE program with included guided biking or hiking tours. These include a bike tour along the banks of the Danube between Melk and Dürnstein in the wine-growing region of the Wachau Valley or a hike to the ruins of Wertheim Castle in Bavaria. In 2018 we will expand to even more offerings including a guided bike tour in Amsterdam, a guided hike to a local winery in Rüdesheim, and a guided hike to Ivanovo Church in Silistra, Bulgaria, to name a few.
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?
We continue to focus on the same core demographic of river cruisers with the 50+ market. However, I think that the younger age group of the 40 plus has caught on to how great river cruising is and that’s it not just for the older folks! We are seeing many younger travellers combining their European holidays with a river cruise that are looking for more active pursuits on board and offshore. We are trying to make sure that what Emerald Waterways has to offer suits both this active set as well as the traditional river cruiser, again making value and choice two hallmarks of our brand.
Many of the Rivers in Europe are being said to be a bit crowded, what are your plans to overcome that? Are there new itineraries and or destinations that you are looking into?
This really is a bit of a misconception. The rivers are well orchestrated by the individual river authorities, who schedule who will dock where and when. While there are a lot of ships on the river it never feels really congested on the river. Where you might feel more of the congestion is at the popular tourist attractions but this is due not only to river cruisers but to the general tourist population. What is important is the scheduling of included tours so as to avoid the largest crowds. If someone really wants to avoid the crowds, the best time to go is in the earlier months of March – May or later in the year in October or November.
What three things would you like to share with our Travel Professionals to assist in selling your line?
The most important thing a Travel Professional can do is to go on a river cruise. Until you experience river cruising it’s difficult to understand why it’s the most relaxing, fulfilling way to experience the small towns and villages in the countries you visit.
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?
The most important thing a Travel Professional can do is to go on a river cruise. Until you experience river cruising it’s difficult to understand why it’s the most relaxing, fulfilling way to experience the small towns and villages in the countries you visit. The ease of unpacking once for a minimum of seven nights will sell most people. Second to that is to get testimonials from your clients that have gone river cruising, pick their brains about why they loved it so much – their enthusiasm will be contagious. There is a river cruise line for every traveler and it’s important to know your client and which line best fits their needs. The biggest mistake can be to assume that one brand fits all so the more the Travel Professional educates themselves on what each line offers and who they cater to the easier it will be to sell or off-sell to the better client fit.
Predicting the future is difficult, but what do you think is next for the River Cruising market?
I do think that river cruise operators will be looking to new rivers, whether it’s Southeast Asia, South America or India, for example. One day, hopefully soon, travelers will be ready to go back to Egypt. I believe you will see interest build to experience all that Egypt has to offer. I believe the trend towards river cruising with younger travelers will continue as will the trend for family oriented departures.