Interview By: Andy Ogg, Editor and Sales Director – Travel Professional NEWS Interviewing: Kristen Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-Owner – AmaWaterways Before we begin, I wanted to say Thank You for making the time for this interview and for taking the time to help share all of the benefits that AmaWaterways offers Travel Professionals. First off, what is new with AmaWaterways in 2018? 2018 is shaping up to be another successful year as AmaWaterways offers even more choices to explore sought-after destinations around the world, introducing six new Europe itineraries and two new exotic itineraries in Africa and Vietnam & Cambodia. For the first time, we introduced 10- and 11-night cruises that journey through the iconic Rhine region before unveiling the wine-covered hillsides and authentic villages unique to the Moselle region. All cruises are packaged with optional land programs—in such legendary cities as Vienna, Paris and Zurich—and feature a extensive menu of included shore excursions. Of particular note are the popular 50 wine-themed cruises in 2018, which include special wine tours and tastings, visits to renowned vineyards, and wine-expert led informative sessions. Another important aspect of 2018 is the rollout of our new Wellness Program onto six ships. We were the first in the river cruising industry to offer bicycles onboard in 2006, and we continue this leadership in active cruising through our new Wellness Program offered on AmaLyra, AmaCerto, AmaPrima, AmaSonata, AmaDante and AmaDolce in 2018 and available across the European fleet in 2019. All our Wellness Hosts are experienced, English-speaking fitness instructors with First Aid training. The core program will involve morning stretching and core strengthening classes and afternoon resistance band workouts, relaxation techniques and jogging. Other options will be determined by the Host’s particular skill set and the itinerary of the ship and may include pilates, yoga, tai chi and onshore circuit training. Group talks on nutrition, diet, stress management and other Wellness topics will also be scheduled at least once during the week. Overall, there will be three or four Wellness activities offered each day and all this is in addition to our escorted hiking and biking excursions (minimum 2 hiking and 3 biking per week) and active walking tours. Participation in all of these activities is offered at no additional cost to our guests. Can you share your top 5 itineraries that are most popular with your guests? This does change slightly year over year but I would have to say that our classic Danube 7-night cruise between Vilshofen and Budapest is at the top of the popularity pole particularly for first time river cruisers. Paired with a pre- or post-cruise stay in Prague really does create a memorable vacation. Experienced river cruisers often add an additional 7 nights and continue to experience the lower Danube’s Gems of S.E. Europe itinerary through Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. Next up is our Amsterdam to Basel itinerary with its incredible scenic cruising through the Rhine Gorge showcasing vineyards, castles and fairytale villages. The visits to Strasbourg and Heidelberg are unexpected pleasures for most of our guests. Tulip Time started as an off-season itinerary but now these early spring cruises have become one of our top three itineraries and book up at least 9 months in advance. With only one ship on the Douro, we haven’t been able to keep up with demand so we will be adding a second ship here in 2019. Paris remains an iconic destination and our guests love art and history so our Paris Normandy itinerary is very popular. With next year being the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, we expect that itinerary to be even more in demand. River Cruising is very popular and with so many options becoming available, what do you feel sets AmaWaterways apart? We always have strived to have a comfortable and luxurious environment onboard our ships and that involves two aspects: the hardware – the design and décor – and the software – our teams onboard. We’ve designed our ships to be elegant yet warm and welcoming. We have won many awards for the quality of our food and wine and the wide choice of active excursions that we include for our guests. But what we really pride ourselves on is personalized service, as we believe that’s what sets us apart from our competition. To exceed guests’ expectations means listening to their needs and anticipating what will surprise and delight them. We recruit staff with a “sparkle”; we train them carefully on our product and explain to them exactly what North American guests appreciate. Destinations, ships, rivers and tours will change over the years, but that human connection is essential and will always remain the top priority at AmaWaterways. As we grow and the industry itself grows, we want to ensure that AmaWaterways remains like a family organization offering the best place for our people to work and the most luxurious vacations for our guests. In terms of training, does AmaWaterways offer any educational opportunities for Agents to familiarize themselves with your brand and products? If so, where should a Travel Professional find that information? Travel agents need to register on our website amawaterways.com under our Travel Agent Portal. There they will find access to our Specialist Program, our user friendly TA Online Booking Engine, customizable marketing materials, up to date information on promotional offers and FAM dates. Watch out for soon to be released dates for special Seminars on the River which are hosted educational cruises led by our experienced BDMs. What new things are on the horizon for 2019 for your brand? Our European fleet expands in 2018 with our 20th ship, AmaLea, and 2019 will be another remarkable year as we introduce three new ships – AmaMora, AmaDouro and the ultra-spacious AmaMagna. With most staterooms measuring 355 sq. ft. featuring full balconies, AmaMagna will be particularly attractive to ocean cruisers looking for more personal space and a unique way to experience the Danube. AmaMagna reflects the ultimate in personalized, luxury river cruising. In addition to the main dining room and Chef’s Table, this double wide ship will feature al fresco dining and a new wine bar and restaurant. There will be exciting new activities like water sports and opportunities to play golf ashore. Drawing on the popularity of our Wellness Program, available on six ships in 2018 and almost fleet-wide in 2019, AmaMagna will also have an expansive multi-functional Health & Wellness Studio. We invite you to follow the story of AmaMagna at www.amawaterways.com/amamagna. What advice do you offer to a Travel Professional looking to grow their business with AmaWaterways? Do you have any “Hot Tips” to share to aspiring agents looking to sell more River Cruises? There are four essential steps to selling more river cruises: Take the specialist courses offered by the different river cruise companies to get in depth understanding of not only the destinations but also the different styles and inclusions onboard and onshore. Talk to other travel advisors that have similar client profiles as you do and get their feedback.2. Choose three companies that you feel best fits your clients’ needs and that you can develop a close business relationship in order to get the marketing support and advice you may need to grow your business with them.Invest in at least two river cruise experiences – start with the Rhine and Danube.Look into your client base and identify clients who enjoy eating out, appreciate regional dishes and fine wines, who like to travel with friends and extended family members and who have a genuine interest in music, art or history. If they lead active busy lifestyles, they probably will love AmaWaterways. Before we conclude, do you have anything you’d like to share with our Travel Professional NEWS readers? 2018 will be an exciting year as we christen our 20th ship AmaLea on May 26th in Vilshofen Germany. The proud godmother, Filomena Andre is vice president travel products and services from AAA Southern California and represents the importance that we place on the strong relationships we have built with the travel agent community. We know we would not be the successful company we are today without their continuous support. With our teams’ passion for innovation and guest satisfaction, I am looking forward to “more” in the years ahead – more innovation, more engagement with our travel partners and more wonderful feedback from your clients on board our ships. Thank you so much for the time today, as well as the very valuable information that you have shared. We wish you continued success as we look forward into this exciting part of Travel!