New holiday enhancements and destinations for river cruise passengers are among the initiatives being introduced by Riviera Travel. As life during lockdown continues for the time being, Jeannine Williamson chatted to Will Sarson, Head of Specialist Product at the Silver Travel Advisor partner company which provides river cruises and escorted European and worldwide tours.
How has Riviera Travel been working with customers in recent months?
Like many, Riviera Travel has transitioned to working from home really quickly thanks to some great work from our IT team. We have many different teams working non-stop to help our customers. Our contact centre team has been helping people with affected holidays and our product teams have been working on making our range of 2021 holidays available earlier than ever before to give our customers maximum choice. In operations, we made sure all of our customers returned home safely once the lockdowns were announced, including chartering a whole aircraft in one instance. Since then we have been liaising with various official bodies to begin planning any adjustments that may be required for when we are able to resume our holidays. Our marketing team has been keeping in touch with our customers in many ways, including our Riviera Together social media programme of quizzes, puzzles, articles and general travel inspiration.
Are customers keen to travel again?
Our customers really do love to travel and although they understand the situation we find ourselves in, I think it’s fair to say that are chomping at the bit to start seeing the world again. I am pleased that the majority of our customers are choosing to reschedule their holidays, later in 2020 or 2021, or opting for a refund credit note whilst they decide on their future plans.
What have you been doing during lockdown?
I am still working hard all day at the moment. As my role is mostly about planning for the future, I am being kept as busy as ever! The big difference for me is that I am working from home, which means I save commuting two to three hours a day. I am using that time to make sure I am keeping fit with various online workouts as well as walking a lot too. One of the big positives for me is discovering so many little parts of the area I live in that I never knew existed. I’ve also been trying to put time into creative endeavours like writing and recording music, although I’m not sure how appreciative my neighbours are about the latter!
What about the rest of your team?
They are also working from home and we keep in touch via video calls. It is always nice to see your colleagues on your screen and our CEO Phil Hullah also keeps everyone in the loop with regular updates so we all know how things are progressing.
What are your predictions for the future of travel?
As you may expect, I am a keen traveller myself and have unfortunately had to postpone a number of trips. However, I use the word postpone, not cancel, and intend to do the exact same holidays, just later on. I accept that in the short term there may be some slightly more unusual aspects to travel, but we will adapt as necessary. If Covid-19 has reminded me of one thing, it is that travel is one of life’s ultimate privileges and, if anything, I hope to do even more in the future. In fact, I have already booked a couple of extra holidays for myself for this year because I can’t wait to start travelling again. We recently undertook some research and our customers said exactly the same thing.
Which destinations do you predict will be the most popular when travel resumes?
I think a lot of savvy travellers will head to places such as Venice and Dubrovnik that were, until recently, tourism hot spots. There is definitely a sense that going to those destinations in the next year or two will provide a very different experience with fewer people around. The great outdoors will also be another prominent theme going forward; wide open spaces and a connection with nature will be a big draw. Finally, I expect many people to return to tried and tested favourite destinations as a way of getting back into the travelling swing of things.
I accept that in the short term there may be some slightly more unusual aspects to travel, but we will adapt as necessary. We have been working incredibly hard to make sure we are able to give our guests the cruises and tours they know and love with the minimum disruption. We will do all of the hard work behind the scenes so our customers can fully enjoy their holiday experience
What can future guests look forward to?
One of the main innovations we have for our river cruise guests in 2021 is the launch of Riviera Plus. This is a fantastic set of enhancements for those booking upper deck cabins, including a portable Wi-Fi hotpot, in-cabin sparkling wine, nightly aperitif and more. We are also excited to launch a new itinerary, Amsterdam, Cologne and the Best of Holland & Flanders, giving our guests a year-round opportunity to sail along the Dutch waterways. On our escorted tours, we will be offering smaller group versions of our holidays for those who prefer a bit more space – more news on that soon!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I say the same thing to anyone who asks me about travel – friends, family, customers – don’t miss out on the world. Trust travel companies and tourism authorities to do the right thing on your behalf and be willing to adapt where is necessary. We will be seeing the sights, smelling the scents and tasting the flavours of the world again very soon!
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Riviera Travel.