River cruise ‘can rival ocean in five years’

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by Natasha Salmon

River cruise suppliers should “learn from the mistakes” of their ocean cruise counterparts to grow trade and consumer awareness, delegates at the Clia River Cruise Conference in Amsterdam were told.

Giles Hawke, chief executive of Avalon Waterways and Cosmos Tours, said he believed river cruising was currently 10 years behind ocean cruising in terms of marketing and awareness, but could reach a similar level within five years.

“There is a huge opportunity for river cruise as a sector to absolutely catch up with ocean cruise,” he said.

“We can learn so much from what the ocean cruise lines have done. They have, just because of their scale and size, been able to invest a lot of money and make mistakes and learn things.

“The river cruise lines can then continue to learn very quickly the aspects which have worked for ocean cruises and those which haven’t.

“I think each supplier must be clear what their one or two or three brand pillars are and the tangible differences. This is so travel agents can communicate to customers the key aspects of the river cruise lines because I don’t think anyone does that well and it all merges.”

The inaugural River Cruise Excellence awards were held on Saturday on the Tauck Grace.

Winner of the river ambassador of the year award, Margaret McCorriston, a homeworker for Iglu and Planet Cruise, agreed the suppliers needed to communicate their differences clearly to agents.

“I love river cruising and enjoy selling it to my customers but there are challenges we must face to help the sector grow.

“The main challenges are differentiating between the brands and this is crucial for attracting more customers but also agents to be able to sell to customers.

“Agents like myself who specialise in the river cruising are able to take the time to know the differences for ourselves but other agents are unable to do this so miss out.”