Travel Professional NEWS® speaks with Kathy Trafford, Director of Sales of Blount Small Ship Adventures. First and foremost, thank you for taking the time to speak with us, we know that 2017 is showing promise as a GREAT year in the Travel Industry, can you give us some exciting things that are new with your line? Thank you for featuring Blount Small Ship Adventures. We are thrilled to share some Blount happenings with you. For starters, in 2017 we are welcoming aboard a record number of new travelers. And we don’t foresee any slow down for 2018. We are very grateful to our strong network of agent partners in helping spread the word about our different style of cruising. Blount Small Ship Adventures has so many new and exciting things happening that will impact 2017 and beyond. First, we are launching our Cuba programs in 2017 and believe that agents and travelers alike will find our Cuba experiences to be unique. No other company is currently doing anything like what we have planned for this area. Stay tuned for more on that in the coming months. In 2017, we are also test-launching a shorter cruise program geared toward a younger market of Millennials. This 4-day cruise is more of a long weekend getaway and takes travelers to the very popular islands of Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island and Newport. While the magic of these destinations is their quaint charm, traveling there on your own can be costly and it can also be difficult to even secure accommodations. With Blount, travelers don’t need to worry about getting rooms or even transportation, which is also limited, over to the islands. Focusing more on social and active components like local food and drinks; and beach, hiking and water activities, the cruise will start at $599 pp. Also in 2017, we will be launching new itineraries for 2018 travel. We have 5 completely new programs that have been developed as a collaborative effort with our product, sales and marketing teams. This year, we asked our trusted agents and former passengers where we should go next; we talked to our partners in the tourism industry and we commissioned research on the small ship cruising trends. We combined all of those insights and are proud to be releasing 5 newly crafted itineraries. They will cover in-demand destinations and offer round trip gateways from easy-to-get-to cities like Boston. And in keeping with Blount’s history, they will also continue our tradition of taking travelers to the out-of-the-way places that other ships can’t get to. In addition, we have reworked a few favorites like Great American Waterways, which merges 4 Great Lakes and the Erie Canal together. Starting in 2018 we will start and end that program in either New York City or Chicago depending on your departure date. What unique value proposition does your line bring to the consumer? For example, destination, culinary, onboard experience, etc. BSSA specializes in small ship cruising through the rivers, lakes, canals and coasts of North, Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. The company has been in business for 51 years and is still owned by the family of its founder, Luther Blount. Because our ships are built to be different, we go to places that are inaccessible to larger cruise ships. BSSA is the only overnight vessel that can travel to certain destinations, like through the Erie Canal; or into Bahamian docks where only private boats can go. We are a truly casual experience, where you feel like you’re cruising on a friend’s yacht in search of discovery. We have always been family run, and we think our passengers and our agent partners feel like part of that family. What do you expect to be your most popular itineraries in the next year? We believe Cuba will be very popular, especially given the program’s design. Also, our Saguenay River trip that travels from New York City through the Erie Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway is spectacular. We showcase the scenic wonders of the 1000 Islands and then the Saguenay River; combined with great cities like Quebec City and Montreal. As more people discover this option, they will want to explore this amazing route. Plus, with Canada celebrating its 150th anniversary there will many extra benefits to traveling there in 2017. Speaking of celebrations, 2017 is also the start of the 200th anniversary of the building of the Erie Canal- our Great American Waterways cruise is a perennial favorite and we believe that interest will be amplified in 2017. As far as your line, what is the best advice you can provide to Travel Professionals in terms of educating their clients on the benefits of Small Ship Cruising? Small ship cruising affords travelers exploration through a more personal travel experience. The ships are easy to get on and off- there are no long lines when you travel with just 83 people. Small ship cruisers love the views—they enjoy seeing the scenic vistas as they pass through various locations. Not having to tender to and from ports and sites is always appreciated; as is unpacking once and the casual onboard environment Are you seeing any new emerging markets for your line? Yes we believe there is a market for a younger, active client who wants the ease of cruising but the feel of a smaller more intimate trip. A few years ago we added snorkel equipment to the vessels; then kayaks and recently bikes. Now, we are planning to have more coordinated excursions that include these and other kinds of activities. It is clear that travelers today want the option to explore …and to engage in some kind of physical activity while exploring. We also have seen a trend toward shorter durations in some destinations. Are you seeing an increase in family vacation bookings? We have seen a small bump in inquiries and bookings for smaller family groups; but the majority of our clients continue to be a combination of solo travelers and couples. With Travel Professionals on the rise, will you be offering any new training or incentives for Travel Professionals to focus on your offerings? Yes, BSSA has already increased our webinar training schedule in 2017 due to high demand. Also, in my role as Director of Sales, I will be out in the field attending about 15 trade shows as well as meetings with many of you in person. Please feel free to call me or email me at [email protected] for personal training whether online or in person. What three things would you like to share with our Travel Professionals to assist in selling your line? BSSA was named by USA Today and 10Best as one of the 10 Best River Cruises for 2017. On a Blount cruise, guests will never feel lost in the crowd. With only 83 passengers, every cruise experience will always feel casual and personal. We build our adventures based on the concept of personalizing the journeys for your travelers. Kayaks and bikes are available for individual discovery in port; and a welcoming BYOB policy allows travelers to avoid high bar tabs. Options for local tours, wine tastings, photography and history workshops, and culinary demonstrations allow clients to customize their trips based on their interests. With an executive chef onboard, every meal is a feast for the senses with homemade breads and pastries and dishes that represent local areas. Different by design, an ingenious retractable pilot house allows ships to glide gently beneath the lowest bridges and through locks, earning BSSA the distinction of being the only overnight cruise line able to transit the entirety of the Erie Canal. A 6’ draft allows navigation through shallow rivers, harbors and canals, bringing travelers to places only private yachts can go. And, the signature “bow ramp” takes adventurers directly from the ship onto shore. We have great things for agents too. BSSA offers travel agents competitive commissions and chances to earn more through our STARS program. An agent travel program allows up to 75% off sailings for themselves and up to 50% off for companions. A BSSA customers looks a lot like active tour takers and European river cruisers. Small ship cruising throughout the Americas attracts adventurous travelers and offers an alternative to long-haul river cruising and escorted touring. They are:55+ years oldCouples and Solo travelersCollege and Post College EducatedExperienced European river cruises and escorted toursActive and curious; interested in history and cultureInterested in going deeper into a destination, learning from the locals One extra tip—Book Early! We are selling out many departures much faster than previous years. With limited space, it’s important to call early to get the cabin your client wants. Small Ship Cruising has come a long way over the years. What do you see as the next advancement in this growing marketplace? We believe the appeal of small ship cruising will continue to grow throughout the world. Travelers are interested in micro moments, filled with seeing and doing unique things. For us at Blount, we feel like future advancements are actually going back to our roots with personal, authentic and local experiences. Do you have any additional information you would like to say before we end our conversation? We would love to hear from you! Give us a call at 800-556-7450 or visit www.blountsmallshipadventures.com/agents. For access to an agents-only website, featuring marketing and sales tools, email us at [email protected] Blount is easy to do business with and we promise you will love our down-to-earth, fun team and our office dog Remington.