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New river cruise e-report predicts return to pre-COVID conditions and itineraries

Europe’s river cruise industry has laid the ‘pandemic years’ behind: 2023 will eventually see a return to pre-COVID conditions and itineraries with overseas passengers back and 2019 volumes achieved again, or even surpassed.

Europe’s river cruise industry has laid the ‘Pandemic Years’ behind: 2023 will eventually see the return to pre-COVID conditions and itineraries with overseas passengers returning and 2019 volumes achieved again – or even surpassed.

But what does lie ahead?

This report, researched and written by Frederik Erdmann in June 2023, explores some of the biggest challenges to be addressed.

  • Order activity

Merely a handful of new ships entered operation this year, and very few new orders have been placed in 2023 so far or are expected. The order activity remains low, just as it has been in the past three years. If that trend continues, the mid-term growth of Europe’s river cruise industry will be constrained by capacity bottlenecks. Operators will be unable to use the entire market potential available, and in the worst case, disappointed would-be passengers might turn to other holiday opportunities.

  • Crewing

Another issue increasingly plaguing Europe’s river cruise industry is the shortage of crew – certainly in the service sector, but even more as far as officers are concerned. Some predictions forecast a gap of up to 5,800 nautical crew already by 2030. In response, IG RiverCruise suggests allowing English (rather than the respective national languages) as examination language for nautical crew. Moreover, remote-controlled navigation – including, ultimately, the use of AI – could help to bring down the need for further crew.

  • Climate

Looking at the mid-term future, Europe’s river cruise industry will face a twofold challenge related to climate issues: First, the sector will be expected to make its contribution to get Europe carbon-neutral by 2050. Second, the sector will need to address the recent series of dry summers with dramatically low water levels.

  • Creativity

While operational challenges will prevail on the road to the future, Europe’s river cruise industry will at the same time also have to work to develop its product. Particularly the overseas source markets will contribute younger passengers including more families, looking for fresh and active onboard entertainment, a different design of cabins and public areas, as well as an even more varied and probably different gastronomic offer. What’s more, the trend goes to more upmarket, even luxurious products, while the demand for budget offers will be shrinking.

Download the full e-report here >>

Discuss these crucial topics and the outlook from industry experts on navigating the future for lasting growth at Seatrade Europe (September 6-8).

Organised by Hamburg Messe + Congress, in partnership with Seatrade Cruise, Seatrade Europe & River Cruise Day is free to attend for cruise lines and operators. River Cruise Europe member destinations, ports, suppliers and agencies receive an exclusive 20% off River Cruise Delegate Passes and Popup Packages. Find out more at