Interview By: Joanie Ogg, CTC, MCC – Travel Professional NEWSInterviewing: Rudi Schreiner, President and Co-Owner – AmaWaterways and Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-Owner – AmaWaterways We had the privilege of sitting with the Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President / Co-Owner and Rudi Schreiner, President / Co-Owner of AmaWaterways in May as we sailed along the Danube on the christening voyage of the new AmaLea. Tom and I were both so thrilled and honored to be guests on this spectacular sailing and event as we sailed from Budapest, Hungary to Vilshofen, Germany. Tom and I have been friends and colleagues of Kristin and Rudi since their beginning days starting this amazing river cruise company. We were so fortunate to have sailed on one of their earliest ships and to have the pleasure to sail with them both again on their newest beauty was beyond wonderful. We had the chance to rekindle a long, strong friendship and to see the success they have achieved makes us so very happy for them. We watched them mingle and engage themselves in every single aspect of the cruise. They sat and enjoyed conversations with passengers all week. Many of the passengers remarked to us that they felt so welcomed by Kristin and Rudi. When you see a marriage like theirs and watch their sincere commitment to their business, it really warms your heart. Rudi has an amazing career in the river cruise market and is known by many as the “Godfather of River Cruising.” We felt that the perfect title for Kristin should be the “First Lady of River Cruising.” Therefore, we have officially given her that title! We focused our interview with them on how travel professionals can best engage and work with AmaWaterways to build their businesses selling this fantastic brand. Please enjoy learning more about AmaWaterways in the following interview. AmaWaterways has a wonderful reputation in the travel community and has such a commitment to the travel professionals. Can you share with us why you feel that bond is so strong?We were a startup when we met, and we were very small. We would put ourselves in the shoes of a travel agent that has the same challenges. By connecting on that level we were able to create great business partnerships. We have a sincere passion for being entrepreneurs. We were able to talk the same language, and we understood and do understand their challenges being a business owner. We want to be a part of their success selling river cruises. When approaching their BDM or Sales Representative for AmaWaterways how should a travel professional prepare themselves and their presentation to most likely result in a mutually beneficial relationship? Additionally, is there an optimum time of year to approach AmaWaterways for maximum success?We participate in several trade shows and conferences where agents can meet us and talk to us in person. That is one of our favorite ways to share our passion and information with the agents. We also have our Business Development Managers (BDM) who agents can always reach out to and approach about meeting to chat about opportunities and ways to promote river cruising. The BDM’s can also help those agents to build their river cruise businesses. That is what we really want to do. We want to be there for the agents to help them build their businesses with AmaWaterways. When reaching out to a BDM an agent may have a business plan but if they do not perhaps we can help them to create one. We know what has worked for some others and might be able to help personalize a plan for them. They first need to qualify who are their clients and we can certainly help them understand how to do that as well. That being said, we will also be honest with an agent if we feel their clients might better be suited with another option in the case that AmaWaterways does not seem to be the right fit. We should all have respect for each other and respond and if we feel that perhaps AmaWaterways is not the right choice for them we will be honest and help them. To answer your question about the best time to approach a BDM about a potential group booking, by September is probably optimal but most certainly they should never feel that is the only time to do so. We encourage agents to feel they can reach out to us and we will always help if we can. The AmaWaterways Specialist program for travel professionals is considered to be one of the best training programs available. Can you elaborate on the program and the benefits it offers to travel professionals?Agents are also encouraged to take the educational courses we offer to learn more about AmaWaterways and all the ships and programs that we offer. That is a very good place to start to learn more about our ships and itineraries. We encourage agents to sail with us on our ships by taking part in our Seminars on the River offered at various times of the year. Typically these take place in October, November, March and April. When an agent goes on an AmaWaterways seminar onboard the ships, they will be escorted by a BDM who will teach them on board all about AmaWaterways, and they will have a chance to experience the ships firsthand. AmaWaterways offers especially generous and motivating group policies for travel professionals. How can they cash in on your 2019 and beyond group offerings?Groups are very important and much of our business has been built on groups. My personal experience in setting up groups is truly a passion for me. I love that part of our business. Number one of course when a group is happy that always brings repeat guests. You have to work so hard for an individual sale but a group allows you to be so much more efficient in building your business. Your business can grow so quickly selling special groups. Many of the groups we have do just whatever the pied piper suggests and of course that makes it very easy. However, we can also help the agents with groups to help them build the best offerings for their clients. During the pre and post seasons, we are also able to offer many concessions to the groups. Our current programs offer an 18% commission for the cruise portion and an additional $250 cruise credit. For every nine paid cabins the tenth is free. If they do not wish to take the cabin then they can opt to have that in cash to use that against the final payment for the group. We are very flexible and want to make it easy for agents to sell groups but also lucrative for them as well. We know that an entrepreneur means you work hard to put these groups together, and we appreciate that. We also work with the agents to help them get the best itinerary and timing for their groups. If perhaps the agent is a bit flexible with dates, we will work to find the perfect fit for them with the best specials that are available. Our group agents in our office are very experienced and efficient. You have to have had some very interesting special groups on board over the years. What stands out in your mind as being very unique? Also, what types of special groups do you often see on AmaWaterways?Yes, we really have had a variety of special groups on our ships. One that stands out as being very unique was through an agent in Canada. They wanted to bring on a hockey team and they asked that we help them secure teams in the various cities we visited to play against in the evenings when the ship was docked. They would play and then they could bring the local team on board after the game to share a beer! It was very successful and a fun group. It became a repeat group and continued to grow each time. We also had a request for a group of teenagers that were part of a large church choir. The agent had reached out to other river cruise companies and were told that because they were young teenagers, they did not think it would be a good option. They called us at AmaWaterways and we said sure, let’s make this happen. The kids all convinced their parents and grandparent to come and therefore they were really escorted by the adults. It was a win for all and we attended one of their performances in Vienna and it was one of the most wonderful nights ever. Other types of groups that we see include bike groups, garden clubs, religious groups, beer tasting groups, wine tasting groups, teachers, artists and so many others. We are always very careful with group space, as we know that FIT clients might also be on board the sailings. We work very hard to make sure the passenger mix is well balanced. When travel agents are looking for a river cruise partner to work with what would be some key selling features you would suggest they focus on to convert their clients to AmaWaterways?We at AmaWaterways have a “can do” attitude and will work with the agents to help them in every way that we can be successful selling our cruises. We feel that we offer so many options on our cruises such as the bikes, hikes, wine tastings, sweet tastings, visits to amazing sites, guides that really know their specialties and truly want the passengers to have the best experience possible. We work very hard to personalize the experience onboard to the passenger’s particular needs. For example if only two people signed up for a tour we would always run that tour. We have that commitment to our guests. We believe we truly do offer the best value proposition in river cruising. We are very proud of our ships ranking in the new 2018-2019 edition of the Berlitz: River Cruising in Europe & the USA travel guide, Besides AmaKristina who took the top spot among 320 ships rated, we had five other ships in the top ten. I really appreciate this quote from the author, Douglas Ward — “AmaWaterways spends considerably more on high-quality food ingredients and wine and on hotel crew service training than any other river cruise company. The company is also known to offer the highest levels of customer care and friendliness in the river cruise industry.” Our hosted happy hour, Sip & Sail, and other special touches make us stand out as a terrific value and experience. We are committed in all areas of our company from sales to reservations and to the final cruise experience. Every step along the way we under promise and over deliver. Our cabins offer a great option for families traveling together with the connecting cabins and sofa bed. We offer all agents the option of having a co-branded website to increase their sales. Kristin and Rudi could not have been more gracious with their time and attention to every single passenger and crewmember. Their love and passion for one another and their business was simply a joy to experience. I, for one, cannot wait to cruise on AmaWaterways again!