EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST EDUCATION, AND WHEN it comes to selling travel, the sentiment couldn’t be more true. So when CT was invited to sail onboard the Avalon Expression and get a taste of the river cruise line’s new Active Discovery tours, we jumped at the chance to better understand how the company is evolving its product to appeal to a wider demographic.

Launched in 2017 along the Danube, Active Discovery journeys have since expanded onto the Rhine, offering tours that appeal to travellers seeking not only to be more active on vacation (as the name suggests) but also, to enjoy more cultural immersion.

“Our research showed that too many active boomers perceived river cruising as ‘too passive’ and they were hesitant to book because they have healthy, busy lifestyles at home and want to keep that up when on holiday,” explains Stéphanie Bishop, managing director – Canada for the Globus family of brands, Avalon’s parent company.

She admits that the river cruise segment has long been thought of as one for senior travellers, but the idea of Active Discovery itineraries was meant to appeal to a broader (read: younger) audience.

And it seems to be working.

“Forty-two per cent of Active Discovery cruisers fall into the 36-52 age bracket compared to 23 per cent for our other cruises,” Bishop says. “I think it’s a case of travel advisors recognizing a client’s mindset and matching it to the river cruise – and overcoming what has been in the past the objection that a river cruise is simply too passive.” Here’s what you need to know to leverage said opportunities:



Results from a Van Gogh painting class in Amsterdam



Bishop describes the Avalon product to be “relaxed luxury,” which essentially means guests have the freedom and flexibility to do as much as they want to do, whether in regards to excursions, onboard activities or meals. “Our prime audience is the baby boomer – it’s all about the mindset; not what you think they can do but what they think they can do,” Bishop says. “People want to be more active, they want to be more engaged… And again, it doesn’t have to be for everyone because the opportunity is to pick and choose what is good for you… I think luxury cruising and luxury in general is all about having choices, and our guests absolutely expect choice in everything they do.” Starting with excursions: Active Discovery Passengers have three choices for excursions at each port of call (included with their cruise price): Active (sporty), Discovery (cultural immersion) or Classic (usually a walking tour hosted by a local guide where the emphasis is on culture and history). For example, in Amsterdam, guests can choose from a guided running tour through the city (Active), a Van Gogh painting class (Discovery) or a boat cruise on the river (Classic). As for meals, healthier options as part of the new Avalon Fresh initiative are being integrated into onboard offerings to appeal to health-minded travellers from all angles.


It was a point that Bishop stressed time and again while we sailed down the Rhine, and a selling feature applicable regardless of what itinerary you’re booking – Active Discovery or otherwise. Of course, the line is known for its Panorama Suites, which are 200-square-feet – 20 per cent larger than industry standard – because the room opens up into an open-air balcony thanks to a wall-to-wall panoramic window. Whether on the Sky Deck, in the lounge or in your room, guests will enjoy the ever-changing views while sailing down the river. Bishop adds that even the interior design, right down the classic and bright bathrooms, ensures that no matter where a guest finds his or herself onboard the ship, the view is memorable and appealing.



With an onboard fitness centre and various social areas – whether the Sky Deck or the lounge – there’s plenty to keep guests engaged when the ship is in motion. Guests lecturers will make frequent appearances, allowing passengers to learn about a relevant topic (we especially enjoyed one about the history of the European Union), and local entertainment frequently brings guests together in the evenings. Not to mention, regardless of age, the travellers sailing with Avalon are like-minded individuals – it’s likely to expect new friendships formed, whether over a meal or a game of cards.


Miltenberg views

Views of Miltenberg, Germany



To encourage the growth of river cruises sales to a broader audience, Bishop has provided the following sales tips for travel advisors:

- If you see potential in turning long-time clientele into first-time river cruisers, leverage the various themed cruises available with Avalon. With more than 80 available, there’s likely to be one that will appeal to your client’s unique desires. Some themes include beer tasting, art, music (with Canadian artist Jann Arden, as one example), literature (with Outlander author, Diana Gabaldon), and more.

- Active Discovery Journeys offer an opportunity to tap into active, older clients – a growing demographic. They are a good cross-sell from other types of holiday for a client who has expressed an interest in a moderate amount of hiking, biking, walking – who has mentioned in the past that they don’t want to just “lie on a beach.”

- To maximize your return, be mindful of the pre- and post-opportunities available with Avalon’s sister companies. “We leverage our experience and expertise for land travel as well, so many of our guests choose to take a Monograms excursion before a cruise, or some of them will choose a Globus itinerary to tie in with the cruise,” Bishop says. For instance, in France, Globus offers a Canadian War Memorial land tour, which many guests choose to take before hopping on a river cruise.

- For more sales education, look out for a new training PowerPoint soon to be available as part of the Avalon Specialist program, set to be released in Q2 this year.



- In 2018, Avalon is operating 18 ships, including 15 in Europe which range in age from one- to eight-years-old. The balance are in Southeast Asia.

- The European ships have either 166 passengers/47 crew (including the Expression) or 128 passengers/37 crew.

- Active Discovery journeys were launched in 2017 with on the Danube departures (nine days between Linz and Budapest) and have since expanded to include the Rhine.


According to the Cruise Lines International Association’s 2017 Cruise Travel Report:

- People who take river cruises are more interested in seeing and doing new things (54 per cent) in contrast to those who take ocean cruises (45 per cent).

- Only 19 per cent of river cruisers take vacations to relax, compared to 32 per cent of ocean cruisers.

- Thirteen per cent of river cruisers go on vacation to learn about history and other cultures, compared to only eight per cent of ocean cruisers.


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