Never heard of River Cruising? We don’t believe you.
This method of cruising has taken Europe by storm this summer, and rightly so; most river cruising ships drop you right at the front door of a destination and come with five-star food, service and experiences.
Riviera Travel has been river cruising for nine years and launched in the Australian market less than two years ago.
Since then, the company has experienced rapid growth – Riviera is up 140 per cent since last year, in fact.
And according to Thomas Morgan, Riviera Travel’s international sales and marketing manager, this growth is largely due to the fact that the first wave of Aussies have travelled on Riviera’s ships, and have come back with glowing reviews.
“Our customer satisfaction is really high,” he told Travel Weekly.
So much so, that when asked if they would book with Riviera again, 97 per cent of people said yes.
Morgan explained that because Riviera’s prices are generally cheaper than other river cruise companies, people often can’t believe how good the product is.
“People look at our prices and they’re always a bit sceptical because the price is so competitive, they’re wondering what the catch is,” he said.
Unlike many other river cruise lines, Riviera doesn’t do all-inclusive, which cuts cost for passengers. They do, however, include the important things.
“Excursions are included, the food’s included, all the port taxes and charges are included. For lunch and dinner, beer, wines and soft drinks (unlimited) is $199 per person for the week which is really good value so it’s down to the customer,” Morgan said.
“The excursion lets you see all the major sites, take all these fantastic photo opportunities and lets you have a great view of where you’re going but then we give you free time to sort of explore and wander and let you do what you want at that destination.”
And as for what makes river cruising different to ocean cruising? Morgan said it’s all in the destination.
“Ocean cruising has become all about the vessel, you look at all the new ships that are launching, and they’re not talking about where they’re going, are they? They’re talking about the ship.
“Whereas river cruising is still very much about the destination and where you go and explore. And I think the great thing about river cruising as well, is how many times on an ocean cruise now people end up with a two-hour drive to the destination, whereas [with River Cruising] you’re right in the heart of it,” Morgan said.
“Also our largest ship takes 167 passengers, not six and a half thousand, so it’s much more intimate.”
When compared with ocean cruising, river cruising is still only a small part of the overall cruising market – but Morgan said that only gives it more room to grow.
“I think river cruising’s still got a long way to go,” he said.
“There’s a lot of river cruise companies out there and we all offer our own different thing, and it’s about teaching people what we offer.
“It appeals to those who like cruising and also to people who don’t want to travel on large ships or don’t want to be out at sea, because there’s lots of scenery, there’s always things to do, and you’re always getting off the ship, so it appeals to a lot more people,” Morgan added.
By the end of 2018, all of Riviera’s ships will have been built in the last five years. They’re retiring their oldest ship, and have two brand new ships to add in 2019, making that 13 five-star ships to cruise on.
But Aussie customers better book fast – last year Riviera ships sailed at 98.7 per cent occupancy, meaning 2019 is booking out fast.
And Riviera, being a trade-only brand down under, is, for the moment, relying solely on travel agents to sell their product.
“We can’t sell direct so we’re very committed to the trade.
“The fact that we’ve got a price guarantee so the price is always the same so the customer books on day one or six months down the line, so they don’t have to give away any of their commission for crazy deals or match any crazy deals or anything like that,” Morgan said.
“And we’re genuinely something different, we’re another option. We’re not just another river cruise line.”