Testament to the growth of and rising interest in river cruising, Viking River Cruises put six more of their Longships into European river service last month. And in recognition of the contribution the travel trade has made to the growth of the river cruise industry, Viking honored six of its key partners by naming them as ceremonial godmothers for the six new ships.
During the elaborate christening ceremony in Amsterdam, the Viking Vilhjalm, Kadlin, Egil, Rolf, Alruna and Tialfi had the traditional champagne grace their hulls and went off to ply the rivers of Europe. Four will deploy to the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers and two will sail the Seine. The company is also adding another, a “baby” Longship, to their Douro River itinerary in Portugal, bringing their European fleet to 53 ships.
With three in Russia, one in China, one in Southeast Asia and two in Egypt, the Viking fleet will total 6o vessels. According to Viking officials, two more will be added in 2017. While there are concerns over the Paris attacks last November, the company seems confident in the potential demand for river cruising in Europe. Viking’s sr. v.p. of marketing Richard Marnell feels that with only 25 percent of the two million European ocean cruisers from North America experiencing river cruising, that there is significant room for expansion, and plenty of sales opportunities for travel agencies with an excellent product for their clients. It’s a “fantastic value for both time and money,”
Marnell points out that river cruising opens up a unique way to experience a destination “because most of Europe’s major cities grew up along the rivers,” and river ships have the ability to dock right in the heart of a city. This is also true of the smaller towns and villages scheduled along the way. “It takes you behind certain parts of a destination that you may ordinarily not be able to visit,” he adds.
Travel Agent Tips
“River cruising remains one of the fastest growing segments of travel and we would not be the leading river cruise line without the help of travel agents,” says Viking’s chairman and CEO Torstein Hagen. Both cruise and travel agency executives, though, stress the importance of knowing and understanding the product they’re selling and the kind of experience their clients want in a vacation.
Jennifer Gasser, v.p. of World Travel Holdings, and one of the ceremonial godmothers at the recent christening, suggests travel agents invest and travel for themselves. “FAMs enable an agent to be knowledgeable in the entire river cruise experience,” she says, adding that “nothing is more important than training—product and destinations.” To that end, Marnell boasts that Viking has a Travel Agent Academy that agents can access free of charge. He says it can lead to a “degree of accreditation and that there are rewards and opportunities to earn certain types of credits that are beneficially particular to local independent agents.” Viking publicizes that the Academy offers “the most comprehensive river cruise training program in the industry.” Marnell recommends that agents contact their closest Viking director of development.
Both Gasser and Marnell stress the importance of understanding the client. “The number one marketing tip,” Marnell states, “is to know your clientele.”
Viking Longships can accommodate up to 190 persons in what Viking states is a patented layout featuring two large Explorer Suites, seven 2-room Veranda Suites with a full-size verandah in the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom, 39 Veranda Staterooms with full-sized verandahs, and 22 French balcony staterooms. Staterooms have “hotel-style” beds, heated bathroom floors, a mini-fridge and both U.S. and EU outlets. Also, the cruise line adds, Longships “integrate a patented corridor design and cutting-edge technology with comfortable amenities that reflect guest preferences and current travel trends.”
Travel Agent Support
“We make it as easy as we can for the travel agent,” Marnell points out. Viking’s business development directors are “one call away,” he states, and they provide grassroot support at almost every level. A feature Viking proudly boasts is the fact that they have and were the first to introduce “No NCFs” where agents earn commissions on every aspect of the client’s booking—cruise, air, port charges and other charges and fees.