A native of Dresden, East Germany, Kristin has a degree in the Economics of Tourism & Business Management as well as a MBA from the University of Dresden. After working for American Express for eight years, she moved to the U.S. to work for a river cruise line. Three years later, she leapt at an opportunity to team up with Rudi Schreiner and Jimmy Murphy and establish AmaWaterways. Kristin’s extensive knowledge of Europe’s culture and traditions enable her to effectively promote river cruising with travel agents, group leaders, and diverse educational and business organizations.
Travel Research Online: Tell us about your role at AmaWaterways.
Kristen Karst: I oversee sales primarily but am intimately involved with every aspect of this company, from the décor of our ships to planning itineraries to implementing new ideas (like our wine cruise program, free bicycles for guest use, etc). I attend tradeshows to introduce our product and network one-on-one with our travel agent partners, present webinars, research new technology, meet with journalists, talk to passengers….basically, my job is to keep on top of what the industry wants, fine-tune the quality of our product, interact with agents on a daily basis, and ensure that all the ships are filled. I am also busy developing our international business, expanding our reach beyond the US and Canada and welcoming aboard guests from other countries.
TRO: What aspect of travel inspired you to work in the travel industry?
KK: The travel bug bit me at a very young age. I grew up on the Elbe in the German Democratic Republic, behind the “Iron Curtain,” and I think that fueled my desire to get out and see the world. At 16, I started working at a travel agency on school holidays and learned about the business from the ground up. My work experience there helped me land a very prized spot at the University of Dresden, the only university in the entire GDR that offered a degree in the Economics of Tourism. When the Berlin Wall came down, the whole world was suddenly open to me and I’ve been traveling ever since. I consider it my job as well as my vocation.
TRO: AmaWaterways offers some of the most unique and scenic waterways as destinations, which would you recommend?
KK: That’s like asking me to choose my favorite child! I love all our itineraries, but I do have a special place in my heart for four destinations in particular. The Chobe River in southern Africa, which my husband [AmaWaterways President & Co-Owner Rudi Schreiner] and I saw for the first time aboard the Zambezi Queen on our honeymoon. Myanmar, our newest itinerary debuting in November 2014, is truly an exotic and spiritual place. Anything along the Rhine and Mosel rivers in my homeland of Germany is fantastic, especially if you adore castles, vineyards, and Europe’s beautiful “Old World” atmosphere. And our magical, enchanting Christmas Markets cruises, which look like something straight out of a fairytale. Everyone loves those.
TRO: AmaWaterways has become wildly successful in the river cruising world, what would you say contributes to this success and growth?
KK: AmaWaterways has a reputation for setting new standards in ship design, for providing the best amenities and services, for spotting new trends and for giving people amazing, life-changing travel experiences. Another thing that sets us apart is the fact that we are a family-owned and operated company, a rare thing these days. We treat our employees like family, treat travel agents like family, and we aim to make every guest aboard our ships feel like family, too. I recently read a post-cruise comment card from two of our guests, who arrived very late to the ship, well after dinner time. They hadn’t eaten so they asked the night staff if they might be able to have a little snack of some kind. Instead, our chef got out of bed and prepared them a full multi-course meal. That’s the kind of warm, caring service you get on an AmaWaterways cruise. We always try to go the extra mile – no detail is ever too small for us!
TRO: What is AmaWaterways’ relationship with travel agents?
KK: We have always worked closely with our travel agent partners and consider them most crucial to our success. We offer some of the most generous commissions in the industry on cruise, land, air, insurance and extra hotel nights, and we have a generous group program as well. Our website has a Travel Agent Portal that provides agents with co-branding options, images and logos, details about FAM trips, add-ons for clients, brochures and webinars. We offer on-river seminars, which are an ideal way for agents to develop a greater expertise about our product. Our full service marketing department is always available to assist with brochures, webinars and other promotional materials. We encourage all agents to take our FAM trips, as gaining personal experience with each region and with our products is the best way to sell AmaWaterways.
TRO: Why should a travel agent recommend AmaWaterways when a client wants to book a river cruise?
KK: Our travel agent partners know that if they book with us, their clients will come home happy and eager to book another river cruise!
We offer something for almost everyone. We have wine cruises, a wide range of shore excursions, culinary tours, onboard music and dancing every night, guided bike tours, etc. We take pride in continually setting new benchmarks in terms of onboard amenities and services, new technologies, and enriching and memorable shore excursions. Our all-inclusive cruises are a great value and include all meals, unlimited wine and beer with every lunch and dinner, daily shore excursions in every port, free in-room wi-fi and entertainment on demand, and a choice of included tours geared for different activity levels and interests. In Europe alone, we have two dozen itineraries.
We seem to have an intuitive sense of what our guests need and want most, and we work hard to deliver what no one else can. Our formula is simple: We aim to create vacations that we’d be thrilled to take ourselves.
TRO: Do you have any advice for travel agents with clients deciding between a river cruise versus an ocean cruise?
KK: I’d explain that river cruising is the most immersive and leisurely way to explore the world. In Europe, for example, many capital cities evolved along major waterways, so the Danube, Rhine and other great rivers are often the most direct and scenic way to see the Continent. The ship itself is like a floating hotel, so it’s an ultra-convenient way to travel and clients only need to unpack once. And no sea sickness or motion sickness, either!
Another tip: always provide some river cruise options to any clients planning a European ocean cruise. “Blue water” cruisers are often curious about river cruising, so make the most of this by inviting them to an event that explains why river cruising is the fastest growing sector in the travel industry. Many agents have had success reaching out to local newspapers and radio shows to help get the word out.
River cruises appeal to people who are looking for something new, a chance to experience the world from a different perspective – a small ship with world-class ambiance and warm, friendly service. Our cruises give people opportunities to connect with others in a more meaningful way, to have authentic cultural encounters and learn about different places and people. River cruising is perfect for that because it’s destination-oriented travel.
TRO: Is there anything exciting to come in 2014 for AmaWaterways?
KK: A lot of exciting things are happening! I’ll give you just a few highlights:
New ships: The state-of-the-art AmaSonata and AmaPrima have joined our European fleet this year, and the AmaPura is setting sail on the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar in November. Come 2015, the AmaVista and AmaSerena will make their debut in Europe, and the AmaDara will begin cruising on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.
New amenities: Our Chef’s Table Restaurant, a popular dining venue on our newest ships, will be added to all our other European ships as well (AmaLyra, AmaDolce, AmaDante, AmaCello, AmaLegro and AmaDagio). We’re also going to start serving tapas between meals, which I’m sure will be a real hit with our guests.
New itineraries: Our new program in Myanmar (Burma) debuts November 2014, featuring a 10-day Golden Treasures of Myanmar cruise and 14-day Hidden Wonders of Myanmar cruise. An optional post-cruise land extension in Yangon & Inle Lake is available, as well as a pre- or post-cruise extension in Bangkok. In Africa, we’ve enhanced our Safaris & Wildlife Cruise options and added two new itineraries. One of these, Rivers & Rails of Africa, includes two nights on the Rovos Rail luxury train.
New theme cruises: Next year, we’ll have exciting Beer Cruises, which showcase a variety of authentic beers, regional cuisine, unique excursions, a beer pairing dinner, brewery tours (including a Dutch windmill brewery), and onboard discussions and tastings hosted by beer connoisseur and author, Don Russell.
New tours: Our Limited Edition Tours are offered as an alternative to our regularly scheduled city tours in select ports, ideal for guests already familiar with a particular destination or simply looking for something new.