River Cruise Europe supports a return to sailing
Monic van der Heyden, chair of RCE and commercial manager cruise Port of Amsterdam, explains: “Destinations having COVID-19 under control will take the lead in the re-establishment of river cruising. At the same time a number of European countries are not yet again open to tourists at all.”
In terms of source markets and their role in restarting river cruising, she says: “Seventy-five percent of the passengers cruising on Europe's rivers come from abroad, mainly from the US/Canada, China and Australia. This year, everything will be different. We expect that only European passengers will be cruising on Europe's rivers, as it is very uncertain if and when guests from other continents can again fly to Europe.”
Nicko Cruises, with headquarters in Germany, was the first to resume cruises with a reduced number of passengers on board. Passengers boarded NickoVISION in Straubing on June 1 for a cruise along the Danube and Rhine rivers to Düsseldorf. River cruiselines with mostly German and European passengers, including A-ROSA, Phoenix Reisen, Plantours and Scylla, have also announced plans to resume sailing by the end of June.
When it comes to operational considerations, international river itineraries will have to take the COVID-19-regulations of all countries along the route into account. These are not necessarily the same. In addition, all operators and destinations will have to ensure 1.5m social distancing between passengers not only onboard, but also during check-in, embarkation, excursions, etc.
Van der Heyden says: “We expect that domestic itineraries are going to start first, followed by river cruises touching two countries which have imposed the same or similar COVID-19-measures.”
One of the operators that targets European passengers and is restarting operations is A-ROSA. First to sail will be A-ROSA Alva on the Douro in Portugal on June 17, to be followed by vessels on the Rhine on June 19 and Danube on June 20.
Captain André Mahr, director fleet services at A-ROSA, says: “Local authorities’ decisions to relax lockdown measures and the plans of the German government to lift travel restrictions for 31 European countries by June 15 encouraged us to restart our operation on the European rivers. Despite several restrictions of ports even within one country, we were able to prepare our ships accordingly to re-start the river cruise season for our company.”
Despite the COVID-19-pandemic still developing dynamically, operators working on a restart will need to impose adequate measures to protect their guests. Social distancing is key but something completely new and requiring an enhancement of the existing health and hygiene protocols on board. Van der Heyden says: “IG RiverCruise and the EBU have established a guideline with helpful or needed measures recommended to be implemented. This is very useful for us ports as we simply can check whether a cruiseline is an IG RiverCruise member and thereby has a guaranteed level of corona security.”
Captain Mahr explains how A-ROSA is preparing: “A team of external and internal hygiene and health experts has been tasked with adapting our health and hygiene concept to the specific conditions, local authorities’ instructions and recommendations of health organisations. We look forward to welcoming our guests onboard of our ships again for their well-deserved vacation on the European rivers.
“Our always very high standards of health and hygiene have been further intensified and improved. Strict compliance with the distance rule of 1.5 metres on board will therefore become a key factor. Since we are anyway only travelling with relatively few passengers on board, this can fortunately be implemented very well.”
Captain Mahr is in no doubt that RCE is “essential for overarching solutions and common acknowledged measures, especially in these hard times where all our industry is struggling with COVID-19.” He explains: “The several working groups with experts from all over Europe are extremely useful to understand the different requirements and challenges in each single country and port, and find solutions to tackle these with. Working together from each part of the river cruise chain avoids double work and strengthens the whole industry along this chain.
“The main task of the group is to discuss common challenges in the wider area of our rivers in order to find holistic solutions rather than one single concept of one stakeholder only. Regular phone calls, especially during the crisis COVID-19, were held in order to align next steps to be taken to get river cruise ships back for what they are built for: provide best holiday experience on board while cruising on the rivers to the most beautiful ports in Europe.”
It is said that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and one that might apply to the initial return of river cruising to Europe, as Van der Heyden points out, is that: “This situation could turn into an opportunity to make river cruising more known on the European source market for each age group.”