AMAWATERWAYS provides all-inclusive river cruise vacations in Europe, Russia and Southeast Asia. Founded in 2002 by Rudi Schreiner, Kristin Karst and Jimmy Murphy, the line hosts a fleet of 6 state-of-the-art river cruisers on the Danube, Rhine, Main and Mosel as well as the Mekong River. AMAWATERWAYS executive vice president and co-owner, Kristin Karst is a familiar face to travel agents who attend industry events.
TRO: River cruising has exploded as an option for the vacation market, how are you helping travel agents learn your about your products and destinations?
KK: Travel agents are our most important source of distribution, and we definitely put a lot of effort into helping them learn about our products. We feel it’s important for agents to experience our river cruises, so that they can see for themselves the many things that distinguish AmaWaterways from the competition. That’s why we offer seminars on the rivers during the spring and fall seasons at a very special FAM rate. We also offer frequent webinars throughout the year. We are very active with trade shows and professional organizations, such as CLIA. We have also increased the numbers of our outside sales team, so as to more effectively reach out to agents in various parts of the country, offering customized in-office support.
TRO: What could you tell the travel agent community as far as matching the right client to the AmaWaterways river cruise experience?
KK: I would tell agents that river cruising continues to grow, and there are many different sources of clientele for our cruises. Our passengers actually come from a wide variety of backgrounds. We have many established ocean cruisers who have tried the traditional destinations, such as the Caribbean or Alaska, and want to experience the rich cultures of Europe and Asia in a more intimate environment. We also have people who are used to land tours, and want to experience a floating boutique hotel that is much more inclusive than a land tour. Our cruises offer so much value by including shore excursions, complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with dinner, bottled water replenished daily, free Internet and Wi-Fi, free bicycles and much more. The right client is someone who knows and appreciates this value, and also who appreciates the type of innovative ship design and luxurious touches that we have to offer.
TRO: Share about your Mekong River cruises, did you ever imagine these would be as popular as they are?
KK: We are definitely excited about the success of our Mekong program. We are already leading the way there, with our river cruises on La Marguerite. Next year, we will launch a second ship, the AmaLotus. Our President, Rudi Schreiner, always felt that this region could be a very big destination, even though it may not be as developed as the other regions we cruise in. We have so many repeat passengers who want to continue cruising with us in more exotic regions of the world, so we had a ready-made clientele. That’s why we need more inventory and will launch a second ship.
TRO: What is the status of the second river boat for the Mekong?
KK: The AmaLotus will be beautiful, with more Junior suites than La Marguerite, so as to accommodate our upscale clientele. She will offer 7-night Mekong cruises and her first sailings will be in September 2011. Rudi Schreiner, our president, has been to Asia to oversee progress of the ship’s construction. It’s another example of the type of personal involvement and passion for the product that has made AmaWaterways so successful.
TRO: Which demographic are you seeing on the Mekong? Age? Economics? Vietnam Vets?
KK: The demographic is across the board. As with Europe, we tend to attract a well-traveled, upscale clientele. We are also seeing lots of young people, including teens who find it a transformative experience. Parents are happy to bring the teens, so that they can appreciate the simple ways of life where material goods are not plentiful, but the culture is very rich.
TRO: What does fried tarantula taste like anyway?
KK: Our President, Rudi Schreiner, is the one who tasted it. I believe he described it as deep fried hairy bacon.
TRO: Does social media fit into the AmaWaterways marketing plan? If so, how?
KK: Of course, you can’t ignore social media as part of a marketing plan. We are active in a number of channels, including Twitter and Facebook.
TRO: What message would you like the travel agent community to take away about AmaWaterways?
KK: We’d like them to know that we are always on a mission to provide the best product and the best customer service in the industry. Any agent considering a specialty should really consider river cruises. We offer very attractive monetary rewards, with high commissions and high satisfaction levels. Travel agents are always going to be important trade partners, and we want to thank them for their support.