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Sailing on a stream of success: river cruising in the spotlight at Seatrade Europe

New ships, new concepts keeping European river cruising vibrant
Europe's river cruise industry continues its growth path, with 1.36m cruise passengers sailing on Europe's rivers in 2016, up 2.7% from the previous year.

Almost 39% 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,’ said Frederik Erdmann, European River Cruise Correspondent for Seatrade.

Europe's rivers are also seeing 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 and Crystal Mahler being inaugurated late this summer as two 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.

‘Of utmost importance is rescheduling the time and the place of docking,’ remarked Alen Jakumetovć, md Port Authority of Vukovar, on the issue of high capacity utilisation.

‘The reasons are mostly due to the low water level or overbooking for one of the terminals during the summer season. Since there are five passenger terminals on the rivers Danube and 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,’ he added.

The safety and security of river cruise passengers has never been tighter, said Lucas Sandmeier, gm operation, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours.

Monic van der Heyden, commercial manager cruise for Port of Amsterdam, added, ‘Security is a joint responsibility of the industry, port authorities, but also of crew and passengers. The topic is at the focus of all parties involved. Some river cruise companies are working individually on security guidelines and regulations.’

Europe's river cruise industry is not at all short of optimism. ‘It's a great time to be in river cruising, with new ships, new destinations and new concepts keeping the industry fresh and innovative,’ comments Ben Wirz, md, GRC Global River Cruises GmbH.

Opportunities and challenges of river cruising in Europe will be the subject of debate at two dedicated conference sessions at Seatrade Europe 2017.

The ‘Identifying river innovation’ session will concentrate specifically on new designs, new ships and innovative concepts, and it will also look at trend changes and the evolution of passenger requirements.

The second session, ‘Shore activities and turnarounds - a security risk for Europe's rivership guests?’ concentrates on the need to provide a secure environment for passengers exploring some of Europe's major capitals and cities during the course of their river cruise.

Daniel Buchmüller, chief services officer, River Advice AG and president, IG RiverCruise, will be one of the executive panellists taking part in the conference.

‘Innovation is a key to attract new passengers - and to surprise repeaters whils security is a key to maintain the passenger’s confidence,’ added Buchmüller.