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A look at river cruising's future

Photo: Tom Kohler/Hamburg Messe und Congress
Daniel Thiriet wears virtual reality glasses to envision the river cruise industry 10 years in the future
River cruising's future is expected to be as diversified as possible, catering to a broader target market including millennials, with vessels as big and green as possible.

So said an expert panel at Seatrade Europe in Hamburg on Wednesday.

In his humorous keynote address, Daniel Thiriet, co-managing director, AmaWaterways, MD, Sea Chefs Group and VP, IG RiverCruise, put on virtual reality glasses to imagine a Swiss-based river ship company operating a fleet of 14 vessels plus two under construction in the year 2027.

'Future River Cruises' deploys, according to Thiriet, ships larger than today and with a broader choice of facilities including up to five restaurants. Several vessels are powered by battery packs. Eventually, 'Future River Cruises' extends its operations beyond Europe to new destinations including the Irrawaddy River, the Ganges and even the Congo.

With ship sizes reaching lengths of 175 meters/574 feet and widths of up to 26 meters/85 feet on the Danube, Thiriet also predicted more cabin space for passengers and crew. His imaginative 'Future River Cruises' provides 40 square-meter/431-square-feet staterooms to its guests.

The debate following Thiriet's address confirmed his 10-year lookout has many likely aspects: All panelists agreed that further product diversification is under way and highly important, complete with the integration of new, younger target groups.

Guido Laukamp, chief commercial officer and MD, nicko Cruises Flussreisen, suggested passengers should rather be identified by, and products tailored to, their interests and tastes rather than their age.

As a fresh and innovative approach to river cruising, Ben Wirz, MD, GRC Global River Cruises, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, went into the new U by Uniworld initiative of two ships dedicated to millennials.

Itineraries are available on the Seine from/to Paris, from Amsterdam-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Regensburg, Regensburg-Budapest and from/to Budapest. U by Uniworld offers an up-market, hostel style with activities appealing to a younger clientele, ages 21-45. For example: painting and wine classes, mixology and cooking classes, yoga and a silent disco. Free Wi-Fi is available, too.

Debate erupted around future river vessel propulsion systems: All panelists—along with audience members with shipbuilding background—agreed that LNG is not an option owing to the extensive space required for storage tanks.

Addressing concerns voiced about electrical propulsion, Mário Ferreira, president & CEO of Mystic Invest, revealed its subsidiary, Douro Azul, plans to take delivery of the world's first fully electric river vessel for deployment on the Douro by March 2019.

In a separate panel, Daniel Buchmüller, chief services officer, River Advice and president, IG RiverCruise; Monic van der Heyden, commercial manager cruise, Port of Amsterdam; and Lucas Sandmeier, GM operations & administration, Scenic Tours Europe; examined security for the river cruise business.

They agreed that the implementation of an ISPS Code equivalent in river shipping is neither feasible nor necessary, but at the same time concluded that standards in various ports vary widely today.

As a solution, the panel suggested IG RiverCruise should work on uniform industry guidelines defining suggested security standards and measures. They agreed that protection against unauthorized access and theft, increasing the awareness of staff on board and ashore and passenger education are key elements in that context.

Buchmüller confirmed IG RiverCruise is already working on such standards which will help to achieve uniformity without any additional regulatory measures required.