River cruising getting personal: Travel Weekly

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Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

Personalization, personalization and more personalization. It seems that's all we've been hearing about in Luxury Travel for years.  

It's also beginning to take hold in river cruising, with Steve Born, vice president of marketing for the Globus family of brands that operates Avalon Waterways, recently predicting that "personalization IS the future of the river cruise industry."

Speaking onboard Avalon's newest ship, the Envision, in Budapest this month, Born said that traditionally, people looked at river cruising "as a line on the map. And the convention is that that's their path. They stop in port, take in an included sightseeing tour, get back on the boat and continue."

That is changing, however, with baby boomers dominating the travel market.

"They are used to everything being their style, as they want it, when they want it," Born said. "They are driving this idea."

Avalon is highly focused on this, and this year launched a "Your Way" program that offers more extensive land tours to package with its River Cruises beyond the traditional one or two extra nights in the ports of call.

For example, agents or consumers can choose from a menu of private or group tours from the Globus or Monograms brands in Barcelona before or after a Burgundy or Provence cruise, with flights, transfers and local guides in Barcelona all included.

For an agent to arrange all of that separately, Born said, could entail a whole day's work.

Avalon has also expanded its shorter sailing offerings, which make it easier to book land-and-river combination packages.

And onboard, Avalon also now has adventure hosts on every ship to not only lead fitness classes and active excursions but to act as a concierge of sorts for passengers who want to strike out on their own, whether on foot or on bike.

To help passengers navigate cities on their own, Avalon also has an app that is satellite based so passengers they can map their way around without worrying about data roaming charges on their smart phones.

The new, more personalized choices are  in addition to the growing number of included excursions Avalon and others keep adding from activities like canoeing and cave exploring to cooking classes and bike tours to options for going off on one's own or in smaller groups.

Both are trends that are only expected to continue as river cruise lines look to tap younger and more diverse audiences.