AMSTERDAM — In a shift, programming at the 2024 ASTA River Cruise Expo focused on travel advisors sharing information on building, maintaining and growing their river cruise business. 

Panels and presentations at the expo, now in its third year, had previously been more supplier-centered.

Moderator Jackie Friedman, ASTA board chair and president of host agency Nexion, started a discussion by asking her panel of advisors how their attendance at a previous ASTA River Cruise Expo or other trade  show impacted their business. 

Panelist Kristie Keller, owner of Addicted to Adventures in Bradenton, Fla, said she attended last year’s Expo to figure out how to get “commissions with a comma.” 

She said meeting Marcus Leskovar, executive vice president of Amadeus River Cruises, during the expo one year ago had been “instrumental” in growing her river cruise business, which she has been doing ever since. 

“I went to one of the educational sessions onboard Amadeus and Marcus talked about groups and how they pull their inventory for you to sell,” Keller said, recalling her disbelief that the line would put 12 cabins on hold in order to help Keller sell them. She also took numerous videos and photos of Amadeus ships during inspections, which she posted to a private Facebook group she created to build an audience of potential river cruise clients. 

“I didn’t have that many clients but people started inviting their friends to join my group and those friends were inviting their friends, and it just kept snowballing,” Keller said. “I now have a group going on Amadeus for over 45 people. I saw many of you raise your hands last night saying that it was your first year here. Well, you can be me because I have my first groups going now.”

Creating private groups on social media, such as on Facebook, is one strategy a number of travel advisors said they use to help grow their business and meet potential clients. 

Alisa Spatafora, owner of Alisa Travel Designs in Monroe, La., said creating social media groups has been especially helpful in targeting women clients, who are primarily the ones reaching out to her about river cruising. 

Spatafora said Facebook posts are effective and that when she comes home from conferences or trade events, she’ll also send emails to different groups she meets. 

Group business was identified as a lucrative way for advisors to build their river cruise business. 

Karen Quinn-Panzer, owner of Quinn Panzer Travel in Naples, Fla., said the most important thing is to know and be passionate about at least one or two river cruise lines and to know their business development managers. 

And, she said, advisors should always accompany the groups they put together because clients appreciate their presence and expertise while traveling. 

“You must escort your group,” she said. “People will love traveling with you because you’ll take care of everything, and whatever river cruise line you choose, they know how to work with you, and it will be seamless.” 

Those travelers, she added, will rave to their friends and neighbors about the trip, helping to create more group business.  

“Don’t think about doing groups,” she said. “Just do it.”

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