By Jamie Loizou, managing director, AmaWaterways
Our world has changed but what has not changed is the desire to connect with family, friends, nature and the world beyond our borders. While international travel restrictions and health concerns are still present, experience, trust and flexibility are factors strongly influencing travellers’ decisions for 2021. There are some very positive signs, like the roll out of Covid-19 vaccines, that clearly show we have started down the path to recovery with new bookings for the latter half of 2021 being very strong.
In 2021 trusting the brand will be a key part of any travel purchase decision. We are proud to be the only luxury river cruise line with successful operating experience with the enhanced health and safety protocols, while still receiving excellent guest feedback. During a 12-week period in 2020, we welcomed over 1,500 guests on a series of private German charters and, thanks to this experience, our ships are outfitted and crew stand ready to safely welcome back guests as soon as travel restrictions are lifted.
A question many operators are being asked at the moment is around financial stability and it’s important that we are able to reassure customers to give them confidence and peace of mind in order to secure those valuable bookings. AmaWaterways is a family-owned and operated business and Rudi Schreiner, Kristin Karst and Gary Murphy lead with positivity and passion. Our sole focus is river cruising and, with all our ships paid for, we have no corporate debt to worry about.
Customers are also looking for flexible booking policies and this needs to be in the armoury of tools we give our agents to convert enquiries. When it comes to flexibility, we always work hand in hand with our travel partners, but, for even greater peace of mind, we have added a limited time complimentary Ultimate Cruise Flexibility plan that allows guests to reserve their 2021 Europe or Asia river cruise and change the cruise sailing date for any reason up to 48 hours prior to the start of their journey.
River cruising has a real opportunity to grow its market share. Operationally we can be up and running very quickly. We cruise within countries on national waterways where every day begins conveniently docked in the middle of a new town or village. River cruise ships have smaller numbers of guests, which makes small group shore excursions easily manageable and, at AmaWaterways, we offer hiking and biking excursions so fresh air and open spaces can be enjoyed.
We are very confident that river cruise will be one of the earliest travel sectors to rebound. We know that all of us are very eager to dust off our postponed travel plans and start making new plans to travel with the family members and friends that we have missed. With so many milestone birthdays and anniversary celebrations postponed, the river cruise sector is seeing a trend of multi-generational and multi-family groups wanting to reunite in a safe and trusted environment.
More than ever, travellers are looking for holidays that offer meaningful connections with destinations, nature and local people rather than hurrying through a checklist of crowded tourist sites. We are seeing more interest from our guests for more extended stays in Europe by combining back-to-back cruises and adding our optional pre- or post-river cruise land packages.
This has been an incredibly challenging time to be a travel agent. You have been true travel heroes – remaining patient, positive and passionate about travel, while assisting your clients through this period of uncertainties. Only with your continued support, we will achieve the wonderful plans we have for building new sustainable ships, exploring exciting destinations, offering innovative dining options, new theme cruises and immersive excursions – while keeping our guests – your clients – safe and healthy.
Lynn Narraway, managing director UK & Ireland, Seabourn
Over the last few years, the luxury sector has continued to show a strong performance and a more resilient booking curve. There are more luxury travellers out there than ever before, and so with many of these consumers limited to ‘staycations’ in 2020, I believe that there is an underlying and pent-up demand for our guests to travel. Many Seabourn guests have already secured their 2021, 2022 and even 2023 holidays, so that they have a luxury experience to look forward to. I predict that more companies, like ourselves will be launching 2023 product early to meet this demand from consumers.
I believe that the ‘bucket list’ destinations will be key. For example: Antarctica, Australia, the Arctic and Greenland. We have already had to respond to the demands of the luxury traveller towards experiential satisfaction, and the growing number of expedition operators and dedicated expedition cruise ships will continue to develop unique experiences to cater for this demand for ‘soft adventure’ and learning – such as kayaking around Heimaey in the Westman Islands being taught about bird life by an ornithologist, visiting Viking ruins with an archaeologist, or whale watching in Antarctica with a wildlife expert.
These ships have entire teams of scientists and experts onboard, and when our first expedition ship, Seabourn Venture, arrives in December she will present these experiences in ultra-luxury, offering 132 all-veranda oceanfront suites, stunning interiors by designer Adam D Tihany, alongside kayaks, 24 Zodiacs, and even two custom-built six-guest submarines with their own champagne coolers!
Luxury may not always mean ‘actual luxury’ but rather ‘remote’, ‘hard to find exclusivity’, so for some travellers this will be the luxury of being able to access incredible places – and being the only people in that place at the time – which may mean a tour behind-the-scenes at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, or a bespoke cooking class at a Tuscan farmhouse.
People will also be looking at new technology solutions that will protect our environment. For instance, Seabourn Venture will run on MGO (Marine Gas Oil) for 365 days a year, the most preferred clean fuel that can be used. The ship will be equipped with DPS (Dynamic Positioning System), so never needs to drop anchor anywhere, and 100 per cent of the lighting will be LED, with less energy consumption and heat generation that will reduce HVAC consumption. The ship also offers the latest Advanced Waste Water Treatment Systems and more.
I believe there will be more demand for personalised service, the difference between being catered to, and being truly cared for! Consumers will be desperate to travel, however they will need reassurance that the correct protocols are in place, and they will look for this advice even more from their trusted travel adviser.
Most importantly, I believe that cruise will be the safest way to travel. The cruise industry is 100 per cent committed to investing in the very highest standards of protocols to protect our guests and crew.
Positivity is key – and there is plenty of that in this industry. We just need to remain positive over the next few months. This is where our valued travel partners come in. Learn about these protocols and be confident. You are perfectly placed to translate this positivity to our guests to regain their trust and confidence to travel again.