Dear Jack and Diane: I think I can help with that river cruise …

A recent tongue-in-cheek, two-part Reality Check column by Richard Turen presented a fictionalized account about two young travelers searching for the best European river cruise line and discovering that, depending upon which website their search led to, the answer could have been any number of different lines.

It certainly helps to have taken at least one European river cruise if you’re serious about selling and promoting river cruising. I had read about the experience, but until we took our first river cruise, I didn’t really understand how good this vacation can be for many of our clients. Since then, Anne and I have been on 21 river cruises. We have paid our own way each time, unlike others who write about these vacations, so we can offer reasonably unbiased recommendations.

We have noticed that some publications try to define luxury or differentiate the 4- or 5-star experience in river cruising. To us, it is a fruitless mission — luxury is in the eye of the beholder.

What to ask your clients

Instead, focus on the features and the different “vibe” each line offers. Here are some of the questions we ask clients:

• Does your client want butler service? What level of service?
• Does your client care about wine? Regional wines? Do they want to make sure all alcoholic beverages are included?
• Is cabin size or a balcony important? Stateroom features such as a bathtub? The decor?
• Does the line sail on the route your client wants, with the appropriate port stops, at the time the client wants to go?
• Do the clients care whether the guides are onboard or local?

Here’s the real reality check: If you can’t answer these questions without a lot of research, you probably won’t sell many European river cruises. In fact, your clients might know more than you.

As with any type of vacation, a river cruise is not for everyone. Folks who don’t like schedules, have mobility challenges, want huge staterooms or are looking for the Vegas-style night entertainment ocean cruises often feature may find river cruising a poor choice.

Who is a good fit for river cruising?

On the other hand, how do you know who will enjoy a river cruise? Here are some of the characteristics we find indicate a potential candidate. Are they:

• Well-traveled, having visited Alaska/Hawaii/Europe previously?
• Age 60 or older (although recently, we’ve noticed this trending younger)?
• Retired?
• The type who enjoy small villages/historical sites?
• In the $80,000 median annual income range?
• Veterans of a seven-day or longer ocean cruise?
• Willing to spend $400 or more per person, per night, if the value is there?
• Celebrating a milestone event?
• People who enjoy good food and wine?

Bottom line? If your clients: desire fine dining; a hassle-free vacation that is easy to plan and arrange; want to discover leisure destinations that they may later want to return to and explore in-depth; are looking for good value; and seeking a reliable and safe vacation, then European river cruising is a great choice.

Focus on matching your clients to the right line for them, on the right route, and you will likely have earned lifetime, repeat clients.

Trust us: Jack and Diane will love this approach!

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