Europe’s river cruise industry continues its growth path, with 1.36 million cruise passengers sailing on Europe’s rivers in 2016, up 2.7 percent from the previous year. Almost 39 percent of last year’s guests came from the US and Canada: “North America turns into an ever more important source market for Europe’s river cruise operators, as does the UK with a spectacular eleven percent leap in terms of passengers last year”, says Frederik Erdmann, European River Cruise Correspondent for Seatrade.
With the growth of overseas guests, Europe’s rivers also see the arrival of new ships – and new concepts. Last year, 22 new riverships entered service in Europe (out of a global orderbook of 31), another 17 will follow this year. “We are seeing new visions, new ideas and new concepts arriving, with Crystal River Cruises’ Crystal Bach (pictured above) and Crystal Mahler being inaugurated late this summer as two spectacular examples. Technologically, the successful return of paddle wheel propulsion has made new destinations available – particularly along rivers with a shallow or seasonally varying water level”, Erdmann continues.
On the other hand, Europe’s river cruise industry also faces a number of challenges: Rules and regulations continue being highly diversified from country to country, certain touristic hotspots are facing signs of congestion, recruiting good crew is getting increasingly difficult, and security is a critical issue in river cruising as much as in ocean cruising. “One of the most important among all is rescheduling the time and the place of docking. The reasons are mostly due to the low water level or overbooking for one of the terminals during the high summer season. Since there are five passenger terminals on river Danube and river Drava, at a distance of only 150 km, we have to reschedule cruise passengers to the nearest passenger terminal, so their shore excursions can continue without delay and our passengers stay satisfied”, said Alen Jakumetovc, Managing Director, Port Authority of Vukovar, comments on the issue of high capacity utilisation.
The safety and security of river cruise passengers has never been tighter, and Lucas Sandmeier, General Manager Operation, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, gives an insight on how to marry up the increase in demand with levels of security: “The challenge is to find ways to not compromising the very arguments that lead to the success of river cruise. Combine this with the ever increasing demands to provide security to its travellers, the equally increasing number of regulations and desires from authorities, regulators, governments and unions as well as the introduction of technology to deliver a guest experience, and the mix may produce a product that has little resemblance to the so successful river cruise of today”.
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