River Cruising Your Travel Agency

Defining Your River Cruise Market

Written By: Tom Ogg



Hopefully you have been able to take some of the river cruise line training and now have an excellent understanding of their products. By accomplishing this you should be able to locate the line that is compatible with the niche that you will be selling into.


First and foremost, you must define your market as conclusively as possible. In other words, “Who are you targeting as your river cruise customer base?” This is especially true when just starting out in the business of selling river cruises. We could not possibly expect ourselves to know the entire world as a destination, even though we would like to because learning new destinations and the many offerings available to our clients is exciting, interesting and mentally stimulating. It is unrealistic to focus on everything and everybody, so there is a need to break it down into more specific micro-markets. Once you have determined your intended product or service specialization, then you can devise a plan to make sure that you are marketing your area of expertise to the right audience.


Yes, there is an audience for your expertise and you need to take the time and energy to find the audience and market to them to obtain the results you are looking for in growing your river cruise business. You need to identify who your customers are going to be and what they really want. While this may seem relatively basic, there are many factors that determine your potential consumer base. In this chapter we will identify those factors and look at some key questions you will need to ask yourself to help capture and keep the clients you seek.


Identifying Your Target Market

First, you need to decide who will be your primary customers. It can be as simple as making a list of the types of people who are most likely to buy river cruises from your agency. This is an important first step because eventually your marketing plan will help you focus on reaching this type of client. Searching the Internet will reveal a wealth of reference materials that will help you identify various markets. There are also volumes of mailing lists that you can purchase from innumerable sources. As an example, if your focus is the senior market, there are hundreds of publications centered on senior travelers, where you may purchase a mailing list of their subscribers.


There are several important factors to look at in identifying your customers such as demographics, as well as psychographic factors. When you look at demographics, you are identifying your target audience by looking at:


Family/ Household Composition Geographic Location


Psychographics is a more in-depth analysis of consumers buying habits based on psychological stimuli. When you look at psychographics, you are identifying your target audience by looking at:




Based on the above criteria, some of the most common major micro-markets include singles, families, affluent consumers, the senior market, baby boomers, ethnic communities and special interest groups. However, don’t stop there. That is just a small microcosm of the markets that are viable in today’s travel environment.


Ideally, you will determine your target market by aligning your specific demographic audience with their psychographic profile. As examples, you may want to target women who value exercise, seniors who are interested in photography, baby boomers that enjoy wine tasting or families that seek enriching cultural experiences.


Take a hard look at the specific demographics and psychographics of the consumers you wish to target. You need to have intimate knowledge of both components to accurately identify your customer profile. Obviously, you aren’t going to promote a long river cruise to families with school age children and both parents working full-time. However, singles may be looking for a river cruise with opportunities to meet other singles of the opposite sex. Seniors often have a more flexible schedule and abundant time, so a longer vacation offering personal fulfillment and a good value is what piques their interest. Your affluent customer is most likely to have a distaste for “nickel and diming” and prefer a luxury “experience” that is all-inclusive, offers superior service and exclusive accommodations. Baby boomers tend to be experiential oriented and their focus is on lifestyle pursuits, so a culinary river cruise, wine tasting in France or a Biking river cruise on the Douro River in Portugal may be just what they find interest in.


Think about your own expertise and how it relates to specific groups which may be a source of potential customers for you. A retired high school teacher we know has turned her former career into the main focus of her client base – retired teachers. She still maintains close contact with her colleagues, and as they want to experience river cruises you can guess who is the river cruise expert they trust to plan their travel. Depending on your own interests, contacts and community involvement, target markets may include the gay and lesbian niche, religious markets or the health and wellness niche market to name just a few. Based on all the demographic and psychographic data that is unique to your situation, don’t be afraid to explore what makes you uniquely qualified to deliver the perfect service to the perfect targets.


Next, as an adjunct to the above, you want to put yourself in your target customer’s shoes and ask yourself what do they want and need out of your relationship. Simply write down what each audience you are focusing upon would want from your travel consulting. You need to do this for each customer type. What if you don’t have the answers to these questions? Start asking your friends and family what they would be looking for if they could have the perfect river cruise consultant. Create a survey for your website to gain the information you need. Entice viewers to complete the survey by offering a free newsletter, entry into a contest or some other motivation to encourage participation in your survey.


OK, so now, you have identified your customer targets and what they are looking for from your service. What’s next? It is now time to look at your vendors and suppliers to match their vacation offerings and options to your customer’s needs and desires in their travel choices. Once you have identified your niche and found the perfect product to promote to your specific target audience, you will need to develop a marketing plan to deliver the right travel product to the right consumer. But first, your next step is how to sell yourself to your audience. The next chapter will provide you with those details and the importance of branding yourself.


Potential Markets to Focus On

The Premium and Luxury Cruise Market: Premium and luxury ocean going cruisers are a perfect candidate for river cruising. They are comfortable with the price points that river cruises command and they are also already sophisticated cruisers who will completely understand the unique value proposition of a river cruise. However, if clients are purchasing suites on mass market lines and staying in excellent hotels pre and post cruise, they may potentially be a candidate for a river cruise.


The Senior Market: While the average age for river cruising is dropping every year seniors are the perfect fit for river cruises. They are generally retired and are living on an income that makes planning for a river cruise an easy task. And, river cruises answer all of the potential objections that they might have.


The Escorted Motor Coach Tour Market: If clients are used to traveling on escorted tour through Europe don’t even think twice about focusing on river cruises. Virtually all of the motor coach itineraries that motor coach tours offer can also be accomplished by a river cruise. Remember that virtually all of Europe’s most fascinating cities reside on rivers simply because the rivers were the primary transportation mode for generations. And, those cities that are not on a river can be viewed by a day trip from the river. Key advantages of river cruises over motor coach tours are;

  • Only unpack and pack once instead of every night on a motor coach tour.
  • View the passing scenery on the sundeck with a 360 degree view instead of trying to see the sights out of a motor coach window.
  • Don’t worry about dining venues like on a motor coach tour.
  • Maximize your sightseeing with several options in every port.


Special Interest Markets: Whatever special interest markets that travel to Europe are excellent candidates for river cruises. Bicyclists, history buffs, garden clubs, wine enthusiasts, foodies, wellness and just about any special interest travel niche.


The River Cruise Group Market: Selling river cruise groups is a fantastic way to generate an excellent income. Andy of the special interest markets are excellent areas to explore for river cruise groups as is the family and friends market. Since most river cruise lines see 10 passengers traveling together as a group, this makes the family and friends market extremely viable. Small meetings and seminars are another excellent opportunity to form small groups.


Potential Markets Not to Focus On

The Family Travel Market with Small Children: River cruises really do not have the facilities for children and most of the ports do not have children’s activities. Ocean going cruises win in this category with tons of things to make family travel enticing.


Special Needs Travel: For those with mobility challenges, taking a river cruise may be quite a challenge. Other than come of Europe’s major cities, the ports are not ADA compliant which makes getting around difficult.


Mass Market Cruisers: People that love the mass market cruise experience generally feel that the activities, entertainment, casino and plethora of dining options on board make the cruise experience and may be disappointed with the lack of these things on a river cruise.