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Cruise3Sixty Vancouver continued today at the Vancouver Convention Centre West building, under the watchful gaze of Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam, which was in town to embark guests on another weeklong roundtrip journey to Alaska.
For press, today was mainly a day to reconnect with colleagues and discover new partnerships on the tradeshow floor, though the conference continues on tomorrow morning with the third, and final, General Session keynote speech.
Yesterday, we had so much to cover that we weren’t able to get to the latest-and-greatest from river cruise operator AmaWaterways, which was the line I took my very first river cruise with back in December 2011 in conjunction with Vancouver’s own Cruise Experts Travel. As you may have learned if you’ve read my first Live Voyage Report from onboard their AmaLyra, they had me hooked on the AmaWaterways product – and river cruising – after about ten minutes.
AmaWaterways was originally founded as Amadeus Waterways by the talented trio of Kristin Karst, Rudi Schreiner, and Jimmy Murphy, who was the original founder of tour operator Brendan Vacations. The first thing that I noticed yesterday at the press conference, and today while walking the trade show, was that both Kristin and Rudi are some of the most approachable and open executives at the show. In fact, they even manned their own booth, which frequently had some of the longest queues of any venue!
The lines to meet these two remarkable individuals aren’t without good reason: together with Jimmy Murphy, the talented trio behind AmaWaterways have been working steadily to add new features and enhance existing ones, both at the ship and itinerary level. AmaWateways became the first major North American-based river cruise line to offer safari-style journeys through Africa, and their Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong product has performed so strongly that the line’s recently-launched AmaLotus – the second AmaWaterways vessel on that run – is nearly sold out for the 2013 season.
Part of the success of AmaWaterways in regions like Vietnam and Cambodia can be attributed to their desire to ensure consistency across their entire product line – something that isn’t without its challenges in regions like Russia or Asia, where they charter ships from trusted operators.
“We bring our European staff and management teams over to teach the locals. We bring the Cambodian and Vietnamese staff over to Europe to see how we run things over there. The most difficult part is Russia,” Schreiner said. “The ships are old; there are no new ships in Russia; the newest ship was built in 1991. In most cases, they have the same old diesel engines. They start up [and] black smoke shoots up into the air. What’s the reason behind it? It’s a short season – five months only. The capital investment for a new ship [in Russia] is too much.”
For AmaWaterways, the solution to the dilemma in Russia presented itself in the form of the AmaKatarina: a Russian-built ship that the line had stripped almost to the bare steel and rebuilt from the ground up in order to bring it up-to-par with the line’s European offerings.
This winter, AmaWaterways’ first six vessels will also be refitted with the line’s trendsetting chef’s table dining experience, while the line will also roll out a Viennese-style café experience across the fleet.
The result: no shortage of agents at the AmaWaterways booth, looking to make new partnerships and enhance existing ones.
Also in the river cruise vein was Tauck, which had a beautiful pavilion set up showcasing my all-time favorite river cruising video. Seriously, I watch this two or three times a week – no kidding – and it perfectly captures the Tauck experience. Hopefully, so does our Live Voyage Report from last fall, as well.
While the trade show floor isn’t as large as, say, the one held at the annual Cruise Shipping Miami convention, it’s a nonetheless impressive showing of the latest and greatest in the industry, particularly as it relates to the people who are actually selling the products that so many talented people have worked hard to create, develop and promote.
A few photos from the floor:
Finally, my last meeting of the day was literally just that – because I got so wrapped up in meeting old friends and gathering information, I missed a scheduled appointment with TravelSavers’ Nicole Mazza. If you saw someone race back down the escalator at 3:59pm, with sixty seconds left in the convention, that would have been me.
Fortunately, Nicole was gracious and more than willing to talk about the company that her father Rick Mazza founded more than 40 years ago, and to provide me with some insight into a segment of the cruise market that had, until now, largely remained a mystery to me.
TravelSavers was the original brand of the American Marketing Group, which now encompasses 18 separate brands. As Nicole explained, the company was designed from the ground-up to be a one-stop-shop for independent travel agencies, regardless of their primary focus. The company provides each of their member agencies with the tools they need for success, from sales and marketing support to graphic design and information technology assistance. They’ve even had instances in the past where they have sent up trained members of their team to assist agencies in closing large-value deals.
What’s unique about this is that rather than having several agencies operating under a single brand-name umbrella, TravelSavers works largely in the background, allowing agencies to keep their independent brand and image while providing them with the support and contacts that their long-standing preferred partners can offer. Nearly everything is done in-house, allowing the company to exercise more personal control over relations with both their clients and member agencies, and allowing them to make changes as needed.
Think about it this way: you want to start a new, independent cruise agency. But you have no marketing team, and perhaps very few contacts with cruise lines, hotels, airfare providers, and the like. You need computers, which means you need IT support. You need to have digital mailers and printed flyers, which means you need a skilled graphic designer and someone who knows about print and pre-press. Putting all of those elements – and more – in a row could be enough to put most people off. But for those with a strong business plan and a clear concept, a TravelSavers partnership would be more of a lifesaver!
The company has also done a stellar job of offering their clients a little more than you might expect, introducing a line of exclusive travel experiences like backstage tours at Cirque du Soleil, culinary tours of Thailand, and grandstand seating at the only Formula 1 race in the United States.
As I was speaking with Nicole and her gracious Corporate Communications Director, Robyn, workers were already rolling up the blue carpets that lined the trade floor and dismantling booths. What had been a bustle of people and dealmakers just minutes before had been reduced to a behind-the-scenes view of a movie set, with fake walls coming down and heavy lights turning up.
For 2013, Cruise 3Sixty is drawing to a close. It will return during the first week of April in 2014 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with ten months of changes, innovations, and challenges separating then from now.
But from what I saw in the past four days, cruise lines are committed to continuing to innovate even in this rapidly-changing economy and the always-demanding travel market. Those who actually go out there on the front lines and sell the cruises, or work diligently in the background to provide agents with the tools they need, are keeping this fabulous machine called the travel industry running.
Our Live Report from Cruise3Sixty Vancouver has sadly drawn to a close. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @Deckchairblog for all the latest next week, as we sail the San Juan Islands from Bellingham to Seattle aboard the Schooner Zodiac and then – on July 5 – join us as we begin a 12-day Live Voyage Report from Fairbanks, Alaska to Vancouver!
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