The Impressive Leadership Team behind AmaWaterways
A few weeks ago I got a call from my good friend Kristin Karst at AmaWaterways. She asked if I would participate in a training webinar to help guide agents thru this difficult time of dealing with cancellations and travel bans resulting from the global Covid19 pandemic. As anyone paying attention anywhere on the planet knows, the travel industry is facing the worst crisis many of us have ever known, and cruising in general hasn't seen a complete shut down like this since Noah.
The bans affecting travel have resulted in millions of cancellations throughout the industry and hundreds of millions, if not billions in losses. Agents like myself have not only lost commissions and revenue, but in many cases, multiple years of work that was required to offer/host a successful group or customised vacation plan; all seemingly out the window, and many of us are justly and rightly feeling lost and struggling.
AmaWaterways, however, already had a plan on how to soothe disappointed travellers, anxious agents, and employees & crew eager to get back to providing the magical experiences that Ama has become known for. Not only that, they wanted to embrace and include agents like myself who have become a part of the Ama story and create a support system for moving forward.
I was happy to oblige and I must admit my ego was stoked when notices started showing up on LinkedIn and Facebook hyping the "travel rock stars" they'd lined up. I was nervous at first, mostly because I was asked to limit my comments to 5 minutes (yes, those who know me well are laughing right now). I thought over what I wanted to say, made my notes, and had a nice glass of Bulleit Bourbon standing by for emergencies. The webinar went well and now I'm even happier to say that Kristin reported that last week's session was the most successful webinar they'd ever hosted with thousands more requests than capacity could accommodate.
More importantly, so many good things came of it. AmaWaterways is providing not only answers, but inspiration!
Not only I was happy to share my story about client relations and on how I became Ama's number 1 worldwide individual passenger and their Number 1 seller in Germany, but I was more impressed with what I learned about Ama itself.
Seth Godin said "Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work." and in my 35 years in travel and hospitality I have rarely come across anyone that puts that into action better than the folks leading AmaWaterways. Since beginning my relationship with Ama I've seen them dominate the river cruise industry with one innovation after the other, provide consistent 5 star service across their entire brand and fleet of ships, and cheered as they pick up one industry award after the other, year over year.
I believe it is now time to award Ama with yet another trophy: "Best response to a crisis by a travel company".
I've heard it said over and over that no one could have seen this current situation coming, no one could have ever predicted that the entire industry would be shut down, that ships would stop sailing or sit empty at anchor, borders all closed and movement restricted. Yet, what I learned myself during that webinar is that actually the team at AmaWaterways not only foresaw this day, but they had already formulated a plan and put it into action over two years ago!!
Rudi Schreiner, the undisputed Godfather of river cruising, has long been concerned with water levels on the rivers which have become less predictable in recent years. Knowing that the life blood of AmaWaterways depends on delivering on their promise of high quality experiences for travellers, Rudi is one of the first to offer an "itinerary guarantee" making sure that if guests were not able to visit all the places that Ama wanted to take them, they would receive a commensurate (and generous) credit for a future trip. Clearly AmaWaterways does not control the climate or the ebbs and flows of the rivers they travel on, but they know exactly how to manage expectations and then OVER deliver on them. I have personally been the recipient of that commitment, but I never expected that the management team at AmaWaterways would anticipate, plan for and be prepared for a crisis the size of Covid19. Yet they did.
What many of you may not know is that travel consultants such as myself are actually "investors". When you book a cruise, a hotel, a flight or a package vacation you can go online, you can call the providers directly, or you can use the services of a professional travel consultant. Regardless of where you book, the price you pay has a portion included in it for "marketing and maintenance" and that part of every rate is offered to travel consultants of all shapes and sizes as commission. It's a way to expand market reach and to creatively and successfully get you to book their product with someone else doing the work for them.
If you call directly, you still pay the same market price for whatever you ask for including that "marketing expense". When you do, cruise lines or hotels are thrilled over these direct bookings because they get to keep that marketing cost for themselves and you don't get extra discount. You will also rarely be steered towards the best economic option for you, but instead be offered the rack rate or exactly what you asked for: when booking directly it's up to you to have already done your homework and the agent in a call centre won't necessarily point out the better deal.
If you book online with someone like Booking.com or Expedia, those online vendors from the big conglomerates are thrilled because they earn that commission merely for having a website that allows you to do all the work by clicking and entering all your own information. They don't have to service you, talk to you, advise you, guide you, or even have a face to show you or a person to contact when something goes wrong. They just give you an easy way to book and provide some photos. In both of the cases above, you're more or less on your own, and different vendors have varying degrees of quality in their post sale service.
This is where the role of a travel consultant like me is actually your very best tool and weapon when booking ANY travel. If you have the right agent, not only will we listen to your initial wishes, but also steer you in the right direction, making you aware of some hidden costs or opening your eyes to a special you don't know about. We are also there for you when something happens and you need results: like now.
I tell you this because not booking a big trip with the help of a good travel agent is like eating all the Cracker Jacks and not taking out the prize, and while there are some lines out there that will do everything they can to cut everyone else out, Ama is different.
One of the things that makes AmaWaterways so smart and separates them from the pack in a way that maybe many guests don't realize is that Ama partners almost exclusively with travel consultants and professionals to ensure delivery of the absolute best service to the people who sail with them.
Over 95% of their business is done with travel agents and people like me who have created a large following.
My guests know that because of years of experience and my first hand knowledge of every itinerary, port stop, as well as each aspect of Ama's business, I will not only ensure they get the best deal for their Ama purchased product and ensure all their Privilege Rewards are included, but also offer loyalty match programs, an extra 5% cruise credit coupon which can only be bought on board (when I have them); and also send them to tour guides, hotels and restaurants that I've been going to for years. In many cases this earns them special treatment when they arrive or added value and perks. For example, during my last Fall Danube AmaMagna cruise most of my guests got a room upgrade at Budapest Prestige Hotel; many to suites!
Earlier I said that we are also investors and it is important for guests to understand why I say that.
It's because despite all that value we bring and the work we do to get you on board, we don't get paid until after you sail and in most cases that means we have dedicated up to two years of work on your behalf with the promise of payment from the vendors only AFTER you have completed your journey.
We put our trust and faith in those commissions and I know in my case I put in thousands of hours of work on every group.
That's why something like Covid19 has been utterly disastrous for us, but also why I am thankful and grateful to work with industry leaders like Rudi Schreiner, Kristin Karst, Gary Murphy and the incredible management team they have around them. Not only were they ready for this current crisis, but they came with a plan for you AND for me.
Why is Ama SO great now?!?
To start, Ama has changed their final payment options from 90 days prior to sailing to 60 days AND they've also changed their Worry Free Travel Waiver protection plan to allow guests to purchase this flexible protection even after final payment has been made; whereas you used to have to buy it with deposit and ONLY if you had their Medical/Trip Cancellation insurance, too.
The Worry Free Waiver was a complement to their traditional insurance and works a little differently. This WFW allows YOU to cancel for any reason (instead of merely a covered medical reason) and you receive a credit for future travel to be used within 2 years. While it is true, you don't get your cash back, you prevent losing your travel money on ANYTHING you booked with AmaWaterways including airfare, land packages, pre-paid gratuities, port tax, etc. You are in the driver's seat, whereas traditional travel/medical cancellations have a variety of conditions that must be met to qualify for a refund. NOW, Ama's Worry Free waiver can be added to Ama's travel & medical insurance OR simply be purchased all on its own as a stand alone policy.
This is where it gets REALLY GOOD!
When Covid19 required the suspension of March, April, May and now June sailings as ordered by various governments closing their borders, AmaWaterways did MORE than just offer their guests a credit! They did more than just set their call centres to endless hold music. They showed up! They took initiative and presented their options and plans immediately:
Every single guest was awarded a Future Cruise Credit increased to 115% of the Ama products paid for. They were given 2 years to book it (you can travel in 3) AND Ama protected agent commissions for all the hard work they had done to bring them guests, along with a small bonus for the extra work it will take to get those guests rebooked. It was win-win-win approach which is my endless philosophy.
Not only that, they offered this credit to everyone whether they had a waiver or insurance, and they REFUNDED any guest who had purchased insurance, regardless of when. So far, I have not come into contact with any airline, hotel, or provider that has been as responsive or as generous.
"But Dave, what if Ama goes belly up before I can use my credit?"
That brings me full circle to why AmaWaterways and its 18 year tried and tested management team come back into focus and why you can be secure in accepting the 115% credit. Ama is a FAMILY owned, private company that is DEBT FREE! They own all their ships, which is billions in owned assets. They have a history of conservative business practice that puts the guest first, cares for and rewards their employees and crew members, as well as continually re-invested profit into the company instead of taking dividends. The reputation of this leadership team is respected and admired all over the world and as Kristin said during the call, "The only place we're going is back to the rivers!" The preparations they made all those years ago to position themselves to ride out the storm now means this company will be back on its feet much quicker than most and sailing again as soon as they can! I personally know the captains, crew, cruise managers, and nautical teams who are waiting for you (and following them on Facebook!). They believe in Ama. I believe in Ama and you can definitely believe in Ama, too!
I, for one, am using this time to adjust, plant new seeds for future memories and have opened up new groups thru 2023! I also have my finger on amazing individual deals for those who can't travel with me or simply want to go on their own to discover Ama as an individual traveller.
Regardless of what your wishes and needs are, Ama and I have the solution for you and are happy to send you there!