By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
Almost every blog I write starts with the byline—Europe River Cruise Expert. Great sounding words, but are we really Europe river cruise experts?
According to the 2015 Census, there were 105,085 travel agents in the U.S. To evaluate what constitutes an expert in the travel industry, I believe there are 6 good measures that can provide a comprehensive and objective evaluation to determine if a travel advisor is truly an expert. Here are the measurement factors: 1) experience; 2) certification; 3) knowledge of the industry; 4) first-hand knowledge of the industry; 5) professional organization membership and 6) can you trust them? We can use these 6 factors to determine the difference between travel advisors and help you decide—what makes us special about our knowledge of river cruises and how do we use that knowledge to help you get a better river cruise vacation experience.
So, let’s explore what makes a travel advisor a river cruise expert and try to answer the question—Are we Europe river cruise experts??
Our Europe River Cruise Experience
We have been in the travel business for over 21 years. We have planned dozens of river cruise vacations and led several river cruise groups. We have helped clients sail on the following rivers in Europe: Douro, Dordogne, Danube, Main, Moselle, Rhone, Rhine, Saone and Seine.
Experience is important but only if it translates to expertise. Here’s just one example–I just got a text Monday (2 April 2018) from a long time client. He is on an AmaWaterways Captivating Rhine cruise with members of his family. It read “Everything is going great Hank. Motoring down the Rhine to Cologne. Our thanks to you and Anne. Top Shelf (with a Thumbs Up symbol).” Sounds like a very satisfied client to me.
One of our real advantages as travel advisors, is that we listen to our clients and then match them to the right cruise line and get them the right trip at a good value. Since all river cruises are a good trips, it really takes a lot of experience knowing the nuances between river cruise lines. Another factor is repeat clients—folks who sail on another river cruise or book a trip to Europe, booking with us, after we planned their first river cruise. Of our top 20 clients, 19 have planned either another river cruise, a Europe tour or a luxury cruise—that’s 95%!
To my way of thinking, we have unique river cruise experience when compared to other travel agents.
Our River Cruise Certifications
We both are Accredited Cruise Counselors, certified by the Cruise Lines International Association. We both are also certified Western Europe Destination Specialists, certified by the Travel Institute. Along with these certifications, Anne is a Uniworld River Cruise Specialist. Hank is a river cruise specialist for 5 lines—AmaWaterways, Avalon, Emerald, Scenic and Viking River Cruises. The importance of certification is that you, the consumer, can have faith that we have completed professional courses about river cruising, cruises and European destinations and we can use that knowledge to match you to the right cruise line, at the right time, to get you the best vacation possible.
Since we specialize in European river and ocean cruises, and European land vacations, I believe our certifications are very good when compared to the rest of the travel industry.
Knowledge of the Europe River Cruise Industry
Since 2009, we have spent the last nine years learning as much as possible about Europe river cruising. We have made some great industry contacts and use these strategic partnerships benefit you.
We have done joint presentations with representatives of river cruise lines in seminars.
We can often solve problems, get an upgrade, or enhance your experience through our contacts. We are with you every step of the way. Our 2016 Comparisons of Europe River Cruising is unique—it is a 73 slide PowerPoint PDF presentation that is an in-depth study of the 8 major river cruise lines. Here is the link, if you would like to read it. European River Cruise Comparisons
Another factor to consider is our blogs about Europe River cruising. We have written 25 in-depth blogs about river cruising.
In my mind, we are among the best in the travel industry when it comes to knowledge about the European river cruise industry.
First-Hand Knowledge of Europe River Cruising
We have sailed on 15 different river cruises and will have completed 17 by the year’s end. Put another way, we have spent nearly 4 months river cruising. If that was not enough, we have written 50 guides to the major cities of Europe. Many of those guides are useful for a river cruise—either the city is a stop on the cruise or they can be useful for a pre or post cruise visit to another European destination. Not only can we get you the right cruise, we can advise you on the follow on trips. The added plus is that I taught World Geography and Advanced placement Human Geography for 8 years at the high school level—another part of our unique qualifications as travel advisors.
Since I have been traveling to Europe since 1971 and we try to go to Europe at least twice a year for the last 20 years, it would be hard to find a travel advisor with as much first-hand experience as we have.
Members of a Professional Organization
We have always felt that membership in professional organizations demonstrates a level of expertise. We are members of CLIA—the Cruise Lines International Association—the world’s largest cruise line association. We are also members of the Better Business Bureau (with an A+ rating) and the Travel Institute—two great professional organizations. Each of these organization have high standards of conduct, continuing education, and ethical behavior required to continue as members.
Like some proof—he is a link to a review on our Better Business Bureau—it would seem some of our clients hold us in high regard. Our Better Business Bureau Review
Again, I think this is another factor that helps make us special.
Perhaps this is the most important measure of an expert—can you trust them? Just knowing a lot about river cruising is not enough—will your travel advisor put your interests first when helping you plan your vacation. Anyone can claim they are trustworthy, but the only way to know for sure is to see their actions. A good clue may be past life experiences—I graduated from West Point in 1971 and our training emphasized being leaders of character. Anne and I hold our reputations a fair and honest business professionals as the most important part of our business. She and I always try to do the right thing when no one is looking. So many of our clients trust our recommendations, their personal information and family situations and their money to us—it is humbling to say the least.
While this may be the hardest factor to evaluate objectively, the high number of repeat clients (booked another vacation with us) we have is very high in our industry. We have a 41% repeat rate of our top 68 clients and that number moves to 50% when you factor out the 12 new clients we added this year and have not had a chance to become a repeat client yet.
My Final Thoughts
I think we have unique qualifications as Europe River cruises advisors and these qualifications truly make us experts. Time during travel is precious. Trip planning is not easy. Time and money issues are complex—we all want the best at the least possible price. We help you solve those complex issues, saving you hassles, time and worry. We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts. We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe. We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you. We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.
When you are spending your hard earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip. You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.
Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you! We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel. Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to help you: Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!
HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years. He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA). This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years. He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees. His other Certifications:
- AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
- Viking River Cruise Specialist
- Scenic River Cruise Specialist
- Emerald Waterways Specialist
- Avalon Waterways Specialist
- Brit Agent