The UK’s Riviera Travel is eyeing a larger slice of the lucrative European river cruise sector out of Australia in response to sales growth for the company jumping by triple-digit figures in the first six months of 2018.
In Sydney last week for the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasia’s Cruise360 conference on 31 August, Riviera Travel’s International Sales & Marketing Manager, Thomas Morgan, said the company has tapped into Australia and other English-speaking foreign markets as the popularity of the low-cost, five-star cruise product takes off.
Next year, Riviera will offer 327 sailings across 14 itineraries and will welcome two new ships to its fleet, named after famous British authors (like the rest of its ships), George Eliot and William Wordsworth.
Previously sold exclusively to Brits, the “unbundled” pricing offered aboard Riviera’s fleet of a dozen ships is proving a hit, Morgan said, with fares priced “up to 50% lower than river companies more established in Australia”. The rise in interest has seen Riviera Travel launch a new Australian website priced in Aussie dollars. The portal features a new ‘wish list’ that enables potential customers to flag an itinerary of interest with their travel agent.
In Australia, Riviera has distribution deals with Cruiseco and Cruise Traveller, with Morgan saying the England-based travel company have no intention of selling direct in the Australian market.
“The great thing about both these companies is that they can put together flights for the customers and the transfers and create a complete package, making it a bit easier for them,” Morgan told LATTE.
“We’re really trying to step up what we are doing over here. We wanted to use Australian companies because they know the local market. I think it’s quite easy for overseas companies to come here, thinking they know what is best for the market, but every market is different. They’ve all got slight quirks and tweaks. Cruise Traveller and Cruiseco are there to assist us, and assist the agent more than anything, and to make sure it is completely seamless from start to finish for their customer’s experience.”
“Now we are really seeing improvements over here. Up on the first year’s figures, we’re already up 140% in the first six months over last year, and that is with a significant number of people that have decided to travel with us as well.”
Morgan said Riviera’s price point is appealing to Aussies who may have been hesitant to take a European river cruise because of the cost.
“Customers are realising that you don’t have to spend $10,000+ to have a great experience on a river cruise. We do things a little bit differently to all the other lines,” he said.
“We offer a five-star product but with prices at the four-star end of the spectrum, with our costs comparable to the likes of Travelmarvel or Evergreen,” Morgan added.
The Brit said word of mouth has driven growth in Australia.
“We know that while people look at the price and see it as really good value, there’s always going to be that question: “What corner are they cutting?”. We know people are thinking that, but what we are proud of is the number of people that know who we are and know that we don’t cut corners, so they are interested in booking again.”
“We work with Revu and over 97% of our customer say they would sail with us again. There’s always going to be that slight trepidation for people to book with us because we are new to market, and now people are coming back and giving positive feedback, that’s certainly one of the driving forces for our growth.”
So what is it that Riviera is doing that is so different?
“We don’t do all-inclusive,” Morgan said. “We don’t think all inclusive is good value for money.”
It’s part of a formula that saw occupancy on its fleet operation at 98.7% in 2017.
Instead, Riviera excludes tips/gratuities and drinks, and offers a city-highlight shore excursion rather than a variety of options from which guests must select one.
“We include all the important things. All the excursions are included and all the food on board included, but when it comes to drinks they’ve got the option. We do a beer, wine and soft drinks package for lunch and dinner and that is $199 per person for 2019 for a week-long sailing, or they can pay as they go,” he said.
“Not many of our customers want to drink three glasses of wine at lunch to get value for money, and then totter around doing an excursion afterwards. They’d rather have water on board, and then if they’re walking around Budapest, why not get a beer or wine in a café in the city as opposed to feeling like you have to sit on a ship and get all-inclusive on that. If we did include drinks, we’d probably have to charge something like $400 per person just to cover those people who sit at the bar and do get value for money.”
Riviera only offers one excursion option in each port. “Why offer three or four if you are going to Budapest for the first time, or Vienna? You couldn’t know which one you want if you’ve never been before,” Morgan explained.
“We take you to all the major cities, you might get entry depending on where you are, we might take you into a cathedral. But you see all the major sites, get to take your photos and then we’ll give you quite a lot of free time in the afternoon as well to explore. And we’ve got a Riviera Cruise Director and Tour Manager on board – at least two on every sailing. That way you’ve got people to ask to give you advice and things like that.”
The company also offers a ticketing service for on-shore activities, such as the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
“We can get customers the tickets at cost price – we’re not making any margin – so customers are provided tickets and they don’t have to queue and do the difficult bit.”
Tips & Gratuities
When it comes to tips and gratuities, Riviera recommends 5 to 10 euros per person per day, but Morgan says if a customer doesn’t want to tip: “That’s fine. However, if a guest wants to tip someone directly because that particular person gave them good service, they can do. It just gives them the choice. That then means we are not then charging an extra $20 a day on top of the cruise price just to cover gratuities.”
Riviera’s vessels accommodate either 140 or 167 passengers. The majority of cabins feature French Balconies, with the smaller ships’ standard cabins measuring 15 square metres and the larger 17 square metres. There are two restaurants on the larger ship, including a bistro.
Morgan said Riviera’s pricing structure meant there were no discounts, period. There also isn’t a loyalty scheme for frequent travellers.
“We don’t do offers or we don’t do crazy deals or anything like that. So whether the customer books the day it comes out, in six months’ time, a year’s time or the day before it departs, they pay exactly the same price. We’ve never discounted one of our holidays in the company’s 34-year history and we’ve got no intention of ever changing that. So customers can book nice and early, safe in the knowledge they are not going to have someone undercut them further down the line.”
Upgrade fares between cabin types are between $200 and $600 per person.
Riviera also caters for the solo cruiser, offering supplement-free cabins on every cruise and four sailings in 2019 which are reserved exclusively for guests who like to travel alone.
“We have four to six cabins on every single sailing with no single supplement on them. Customers aren’t being squeezed into broom cupboards under the stairs with a single bed. These are proper double cabins and there’s no single supplement on any single cabin whatsoever. Solo travellers can secure a Deluxe Balcony for around $3,500 and have it all to themselves. It’s really good value for money,” Morgan concluded.