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Steering a leading, global river-cruise company into new waters with a dynamic digital transformation.

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Since 2021, we've been at the forefront of Riviera Travel's digital transformation, partnering to launch a new iteration of their website, built using the latest version of Drupal CMS. This journey wasn't just about developing future-fit technology; it was about enhancing the customer experience for a growing demographic in the competitive river cruise and guided tours market. Despite the success of their latest digital platform, the path to this point was filled with unexpected turns and digital challenges, reshaping our initial project scope into the dynamic, ongoing partnership it is today.


Riviera Travel, a leader in the river cruise and guided tours industry, faced the dual challenge of meeting high customer expectations and adapting to the digital-first shift in the travel market. With an annual revenue surpassing $100 million and a significant year-over-year increase in trade sales, the stakes were high.

In an time where digital disruptors like AirBnb and redefine travel booking, Riviera recognised the need for a strategic digital revamp. There is still a preference in the travel industry toward the ‘traditional’ way of marketing through brochures and call centres. For Riviera, the website is becoming the dominant sales channel, and the recognition of its importance and need for optimisation is still growing.

Our mission was to modernise their digital presence and enhance continuous operations, whilst further validating their needs for digital transformation. As expected from a long-term digital partnership, our work with Riviera Travel is multi-faceted, and this project set the stage for a series of challenges and breakthroughs.

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Challenge 1: Unknown unknowns: under the surface

Whilst Riviera Travel approached us with an initial understanding of their needs, after a deep-dive during discovery it was clear there were more unknowns than project sponsors were originally aware of. A combination of being such a major, complex website that had grown organically with time, but with limited documentation, coupled with a loss of information due to staff changes, the full picture of Riviera Travel’s back-end digital landscape was unclear, and the project scope was significantly larger than initially thought.  
For example, we identified that their composable architecture was written in PHP scripting language, not .NET as Riviera Travel originally thought. But also, that the fundamental architecture which allowed data to flow around their website and via various APIs, was now out of support – which posed a major security and maintenance risk. In order to deliver a product both Reading Room and Riviera would be happy with, the ‘unknown unknowns’ of this major digital project had to be revealed and a full picture established.

Solution: Charting a new course: Establishing the full picture

To establish the full picture, we conducted an end-to end audit of their standalone systems, conducting an agnostic CMS selection process to identify the most appropriate 

technology and reviewing options from SiteCore to Drupal. We built the picture from the ground up, via an extended discovery phase, and alongside Riviera Travel’s internal team to ensure information was fully transparent and shared. 
Whilst this resulted in a larger Discovery Phase than initially intended, results were imperative to the sustainability of the end project and identifying prioritisation for the future. Projects that were discovered in this process, such as the challenge of legacy systems, were parked for the future so that an impactful MVP was delivered.

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Challenge 2: Legacy system limitations

A major challenge discovered along the way was the barriers that legacy systems put on Riviera Travel’s aspirations for digital transformation and growth. Systems out of their control, such as APIs that integrated airline ticket bookings into the website, would prevent modernisation and improvements to the customer booking experience. In combination with differing priorities for what was within the MVP scope, such as the USA and other international sub sites, it was clear that addressing the limitations that legacy systems posed would not be a challenge that could be immediately solved.

Solution: Building for today and tomorrow

Through the initial Discovery phase, the impact of legacy systems and their limitations and interest in additional project elements such as international sub sites, allowed us to prioritise what the MVP would look like and how we could build a website that provided a solution to their needs in the interim.  

In addressing these systems, we first focused on syncing, processing, and storing Riviera’s data using custom entities in Drupal, facilitated through scheduled tasks. This was crucial for ensuring the website could handle peak traffic scenarios, such as during highly anticipated events when thousands of concurrent users were searching for holiday availability. We also integrated with Riviera's complex legacy systems, such as their bespoke Symphony based system used to manage data processing for bookings, including the integration with their Tour Cache for holiday and availability data, which was updated nightly to ensure accurate availability.

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Challenge 3: Complex functionalities and user needs

During the research to understand the user experiences of younger demographics on the website, pain points were identified that were relevant to all age demographics. For example, entering the online holiday booking process with a non-standard request, such as flying out from a different destination to what is originally advertised, would direct users straight to the Riviera Travel call centre. Whilst Riviera Travel pride themselves on their personalised call centre experience, it also meant that a significant number of customers were unable to complete their booking using the legacy website. They were required to contact the Riviera Travel call centre to finalise their booking. 

Furthermore, with travel preferences being such as subjective, personal experience to everyone, there was a need to build complex functionalities, such as multifaceted search parameters so that users could customise the perfect holiday to suit their needs.

Solution: Bridging digital convenience with personalized services

We wanted to architect and develop a digital platform that would support Riviera Travel’s call centre and maintain that bespoke booking feeling, whilst also allowing for customers to self-serve and complete the booking journey online. Even in its early phases as an MVP, the search filtering and functionality for holiday bookings was incredibly complex.  

Our research into user experience across demographics revealed complex needs, not just in search functionalities but also in the booking process itself. This complexity included handling customer cabin allocation on the cruise ships, managing cart abandonment, and ensuring seamless interactions with APIs throughout the booking, payment, and confirmation phases. We addressed each of these complexities in turn, finding efficient solutions such as recalculating room availability and storing this information utilising the powerful capabilities of Drupal CMS.

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A voyage of continuous innovation 

We want to continue to deliver a personalised experience for Riviera’s customers, whilst optimising conversions rates and creating functionalities that are customised to traveller needs. With the changes in UX with every new generation and the ever-changing trends in the travel industry, our responsibility as Riviera’s digital partner is to continually enhance, iterate and improve Riviera’s website. We use data-driven evidence to personalise Riviera’s digital landscape to target audiences for their optimal and bespoke digital experience, whilst increasing conversions and online bookings. 

As Riviera Travel reorients towards a digital-first product, our partnership will support their evolution with data to validate their journey, and solutions that are not only responsive to current needs but anticipatory of future trends. Together, we're not just navigating digital transformation; we're setting new standards for the travel industry.  

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