Cross-border cruises are forecast to start in July or August.
European customer base
And, due to issues including air constraints, it's likely Europeans will comprise the bulk of customers for the second year in a row.
This was the consensus of the more than 50 River Cruise Europe members who met online Thursday.
Most expect the second half of the season to be much stronger as the impact of vaccination will gradually increase during the course of the summer. Doubt remains about the possibility for overseas customers from countries like the US, Canada and Australia, and River Cruise Europe members assume these will only return in larger numbers next year.
Erratic regulations make protocol updates difficult
The members also discussed the need to update COVID-19 protocols implemented last year, as well as the 'Guideline for a Minimum Standard for the Resumption of River Cruises in Europe under COVID-19' issued jointly by the European Barge Union and IG RiverCruise.
It became obvious, though, that it's too early to do so because of constantly changing regulations and many open questions — for example, how much distancing will be required of persons who have been vaccinated?
In Germany's case, partially contradictory approaches of different federal states add further difficulty.
River Cruise Europe members agreed to meet online again in mid-April to analyze the course of the pandemic and experience gained over the Easter season. It is still unclear how much Easter travel can take place, but at least some regions in continental Europe — including, for example, Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany — aim to allow leisure travel from late March or early April.
Discussing various approaches, River Cruise Europe members agreed that 'bubble' solutions for matters like shore excursions are of limited practicality and often don't meet passengers' expectations. As far as COVID-19 testing is concerned, clear government requirements are still missing to implement an effective concept.
Air component may put a damper on 2021 season
Global air travel could have a serious impact on river cruising. Reduced capacities and higher fares will make travel for overseas passengers more complicated and expensive. In contrast to ocean cruising, charter flights are mostly not an option given the limited capacities of river vessels.
While the negative effect of the air component may gradually phase out as global travel recovers in 2022, it will affect this year's season and add another challenge for Europe's river cruise operators.
That's why the River Cruise Europe members believe Europeans will once more form the core of their clientele during 2021.
The group's next virtual meeting is planned for April 22.