On Aug. 4th, AmaWaterways held its first-ever virtual global press conference, called 'Leading the Way for a River Cruise Comeback.'
Janet Bava, chief marketing officer, AmaWaterways, moderated the discussion between Kristin Karst, co-founder and executive vice-president, Rudi Schreiner, co-founder and president, and Gary Murphy, co-owner and senior vice-president of sales.
Travel advisors were invited to submit their most pressing questions, which Schreiner, Karst, and Murphy all took turns answering.
"These are challenging times, but after every challenging time comes opportunity," said Karst.
The U.S. market makes up approximately 85 per cent of AmaWaterways' guests.
As it stands, however, Americans currently face some of the most strict travel restrictions of all, due to a high number of active COVID-19 cases across the country.
"We had to make the decision to suspend our regular programs of river cruise programs in Europe, Asia, and Africa until September 30th, 2020," said Karst. "Our business decisions have always been guided by honesty, flexibility, creative thinking and above all, optimism and openness to try new things, and so out of this, came a new venture that allowed us to become the first U.S.-based river cruise company to launch our 2020 river cruise season on the Rhine river on July 5th, with our beautiful AmaKristina, in collaboration with a German tour operator."
Through this partnership, AmaWaterways has been able to implement new safety protocols, while tapping into a local market that has never been seen before.
The most-asked question, according to Karst, was curiosity over what river cruising will look like, while respecting new health and safety protocols on board.
"Despite face coverings, the crew have found new ways to establish the warm connection with our guests using body language to eloquently express their happiness to be back, delivering wonderful service, and creating lasting vacation memories," Karst said.
Ready for a rebound
Prior to COVID-19, river cruising was one of the fastest-growing segments of the cruise industry.
"We are having a really wonderful booking period for
2021/2022,which we opened up a couple of months ago," Schreiner said. "Normally, we wouldn't do that until October, but we already had a lot of requests for people to move from 2020 [bookings] to 2021 and 2022."
According to Schreiner, June was the strongest month for booking, some of which were rebookings, but also, a lot of new bookings, signalling to the company that people are excited to cruise, and soon.
"I think the interest is going to be on the small cruising environment; one thing about river cruising is that you are cruising within a country, and you are always close to the shore," Schreiner said. "If there's any kind of incident, you can get off right away, because you're in local waters," he added, addressing concerns that are connected to ocean liners, some of which still have crew members unable to return home amidst coronavirus restrictions.
According to Schreiner, there are currently 58 ships cruising European waterways, with the largest number on the Rhine, followed by the Danube, and the French rivers, as well as the Douro.
The AmaKristina, which resumed marketing in June, is "pretty much booked up until the end of October," Schreiner added.
"For next year, we see a very strong booking trend to lesser-known destinations, like the lower Danube, and countries like Romania, and Bulgaria, that are not so much in the spotlight," Karst shared.
The Danube and the Rhine are still AmaWaterways' most popular product, but Murphy notes France's strong comeback has made its rivers equally strong contenders for the upcoming season.
"There's a fantastic future in river cruising," Schreiner added.
Support for travel advisors
In the last four months, AmaWaterways has kept busy, and kept hope alive for the agent community by staying engaged through fun initiatives like cruise nights, and Sip n' Sail events.
Through these events, travel advisors have the opportunity to invite their future clients, too, where they can learn about the different destinations, ships, and health and safety protocols.
"It's about engagement, inspiration, memories, and of course, dreams," Karst said. "While right now we're not really selling, we are planting the seed, and that's very important."
Karst added that the company has managed to keep its entire reservations and sales teams intact, which makes it easy for travel advisors to plan into the future, as those relationships have not been lost.
"We've been in this business a long time, and we've been through challenges, probably not as big as COVID-19, but different world events that have impacted our business," added Murphy. "We recognize that when things settle, the business comes back quickly...just as importantly, we know that the best person to be working with is our travel advisor partners, because they know where the business is."
What's going to change?
Currently, AmaWaterways is toying with the idea of changing the style of dining for guests, noting that buffest have become a bit of a controversial subject.
Schreiner noted that the company is looking at the idea of setting up individual stations, or possibly removing the buffet option altogether, but nothing has been confirmed.
AmaWaterways has also increased the amount of space per passenger onboard its ships.
Other measures, like installing plexiglass dividers in the lounge, and eliminating singing in entertainment on board, have been taken, as has a new room service menu, that lets guests dine on the balcony for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though many guests still prefer visiting the dining room, Karst noted.
When North American and international clientele resumes, AmaWaterways will offer more excursions, which are currently not offered to German guests.
As far as new product goes, AmaWaterways is spotlighting Egypt, and its new ship, the AmaDhalia, a 68-passenger ship that transports guests down the Nile river for September 2021.
"The ship is booking so well, and we are already at more than 65 per cent booked," Karst said. "We even added the month of June for 2022; originally, we had wanted to stop cruising in June, July, and August, because of the heat, but the demand is so high, that June was added."
The AmaDhalia will offer 18 standard staterooms and 16 suites, done up in the luxurious, comfortable style that AmaWaterways is known for, as well as plenty of outdoor space.
Karst noted that Africa remains a popular river cruising destination, and that most of the company's clients who could not travel this year have transferred their bookings to 2021 and beyond.
Watch the video!
Curious to learn more about the new health and safety measures AmaWaterways is taking on board?
Watch the video below!
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