The Enduring Impact Of AmaWaterways’ Rudi Schreiner

Open Jaw
by Nina Slawek

Rudi Schreiner & Kristin Karst

From building and sailing a raft on the Peruvian Amazon to designing some of the most innovative river cruise ships in the world, AmaWaterways’ Rudi Schreiner has had an amazing career. There’s little wonder that the man often called ‘the Godfather of river cruising’ was inducted into the CLIA Hall of Fame earlier this year.

It took Schreiner a while to find his niche, but he’s never been one to sit around. He spent 13 years in post-secondary education, studying architecture, anthropology and later earning an MBA. He worked with rice farmers in Nepal, spent 7 months on that Amazon raft and wrote for newspapers in the early part of his career.

But Schreiner’s biggest legacy will certainly be his pivotal role in developing what has become a highly popular mode of travel.

“I enjoy what I’m doing very much,” Schreiner told Open Jaw. “I feel very strongly about what I do. That’s what I taught my kids: Whatever you do, try to be the best. Don’t worry about the financial side. The more money you have the more headaches you get.”

Schreiner got into the travel business in the early 80s, joining with friends to launch Student Travel International. In the early 90s he joined Uniworld, which at the time specialized in tours to Eastern Europe. He was hired to develop new product when the Yugoslavian conflict disrupted Uniworld’s business plan.

In 1992, the completion of the Danube Canal connecting that river to the Rhine made European river cruising more viable. Schreiner put Uniworld’s initial river programs together in 1993 and 1994, growing that business from 100 pax in its first year to 20,000 annually before he left the company in 2000. A couple of years later, Schreiner teamed with spouse Kristin Karst and the late Brendan Tours principal Jimmy Murphy to create AmaWaterways.

“Jimmy put the money down and Kristin and I put the time in. There was very little investment. People always think it takes rich parents or Russian investors to start a cruise line. No. We leased a ship and then we had a partnership with Globus. It grew piece by piece. In 2005 Globus bought themselves out of the agreement and we had a down payment to build our own ship,” Schreiner says.

Today, AmaWaterways operates 21 ships and has earned a strong reputation for the quality of its vessels and the experience, both on and off the ships. From onboard bicycles to interconnecting cabins suitable for families, Schreiner has been responsible for a great deal of river cruise innovation.

Another new AmaWaterways ship will launch in Europe next year, but Schreiner says rapid expansion is not a priority. “Growth is not the most important part. The most important part is enjoying what we’re doing, having a fantastic product out there, wonderful partnerships, controlling what we are doing in all areas.”

Schreiner says he believes river cruising offers major benefits compared to other travel modes. “The ship is your floating hotel. That makes it comfortable, but you spend most of the time in town, exploring. Compared to coach tours, river cruising gives you double the leisure time, because you don’t have to pack/unpack and you don’t have to move. You just wake up in a new city. That’s a wonderful thing.”

Perhaps due to his past experience as a tour operator, Schreiner has always worked closely with the travel trade to market  AmaWaterways. In Canada, key partnerships over the years have included GLP Worldwide, Merit Exclusive, CAA and Expedia CruiseShipCenters. The line also works closely with Transat and Encore Cruises.

Canadian industry veteran Brenda Kyllo worked with AmaWaterways during her time as V.P. Travel for CAA. She was given the honour of being the godmother to AmaSonata in 2014, and at the start of this year joined the river line as V.P. Strategic Alliances. “We always liked Brenda and she has very good marketing knowledge,” says Schreiner. “She’s helping us position in Canada.

Schreiner acknowledges that the decline of the CAD vs. the U.S. greenback took a toll on bookings. “There was initial sticker shock. But things are picking up again in Canada. Expedia CruiseShipCenters in particular is doing very well with us.”

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