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European River Cruising: New survey reveals majority report 2022 business above or in line with expectations

Despite the generally positive outlook, challenges have been identified, with sustainability, rising operational costs and a prospective shortage of crew
The first full post-pandemic shutdown season has delivered results above expectations for most of the European river cruise sector, according to a recent survey conducted by Seatrade Cruise.

Some 87% of participants reported business above or in line with their expectations this year and forecasts for 2023/24 are likewise optimistic, with more than 82% expecting 2023 to be a good, or even better, than 2022.

Big challenges

Despite the generally positive outlook, big challenges have been identified, with sustainability, rising operational costs and a prospective crew shortage clearly standing at the top of agendas.

According to the first European River Cruising Trends Report, compiled by Seatrade Cruise river cruising expert Frederik Erdmann, operators surveyed expect the daily rate on Europe’s rivers to increase significantly — more than 52% predict an increase of between 5-10%, while 30% expect a more than 10% hike.

The industry is also optimistic on retaining its passenger volumes  and regaining overseas guests moving forward. Some 62% expect North America to become, again, the most important source market, followed by continental Europe, UK & Ireland, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

China, in contrast, is not expected to turn into a key source market for European river cruising for the next five years.

Destinations visited are still the most important aspect for the promotion of river cruising – 70% regard it as critically important.

Rise of digital marketing

Distribution channels are facing a change in the river cruise sector, with travel agents and 'classic' communication, including printed material, about to lose its traditional priority in favour of digital marketing.

The operators' own websites, social media market and booking portals are clearly identified as the key distribution channels of the future, while only 26% of the respondees expect travel agents to be still critically important by 2027 – compared to over 56% today.

Hybrid propulsion

On the ship operational side, whilst a change in propulsion systems was identified, it is unlikely fully electric power systems will feature on Europe’s rivers. Only 13% of the respondees see that as the way forward, while over 56% expect hybrid propulsion systems to become a solution for the near and mid-term future.

Hydrogen was identified as a possible alternative power source but it remains to be seen how many new ships with possibly different propulsion technology will enter service in the near future.

Predictions regarding order volumes are rather varied. Some 52% of those surveyed expect an order volume at least in line with recent years (i.e. about 12-15 new river vessels for Europe per year), while 48% forecast a decrease of that annual capacity or a standstill of the newbuilding market.

Growth destinations

Regarding destinations, French rivers were highlighted as having massive development opportunities. Also the Dutch rivers and canals as well as River Rhine, River Main and their feeders are identified as destinations for further growth.

*Of survey respondees, 26% accounted for river cruise lines/operators representing around 60% of the total European fleet; 13% accounted for ship management firms, technical managers and crewing ventures, nine per cent each accounted for port operators and for tour operators, while the remaining 43% accounted for other businesses, including destination marketing, consulting, suppliers, etc.

The Seatrade Cruise European River Cruise Report, sponsored by Cruise Port Amsterdam, can be downloaded here.