Tuesday, November 26, 2019 - 00:00 by ce-press

A decade ago river cruising had a low profile, that has all changed as numerous newbuildings come on stream and passenger numbers and interest grows.

Statistics for this sector are limited but Andy Harmer, director Cruise Lines International Association UK & Ireland (which does publish numbers, see below) told Cruise Europe (CE) that the global passenger market sailing worldwide is somewhere in the region of 1.5 million a year. Of this North America, Australia and the UK & Ireland account for the largest proportion, with Germany, France and other smaller markets following.

Harmer commented: “The majority of all the passengers and ships are in Europe,” adding: “River cruising continues to grow in popularity across Europe, with new ships, new river destinations and new experiences being offered.”

IG RiverCruise also publishes figures and for 2018 estimates a total of 1.637 million international passengers sailing on European rivers, up from 852,249 in 2013. The 2019 figures will be released in March 2020.

In its 2018 graph which highlights the main markets, USA/Canada accounts for 37.7% of the total passengers compared with 24% in 2013, followed by Germany on 28.1% (37.4%), UK & Ireland 12.8% (14.7%), France 7.7% (12.9%), Australia/New Zealand 6.3% (2.9%), Switzerland 1.6% (1.9%), Austria 1.4% (2.4%), Belgium/Netherlands and Luxembourg 1.1% (0.8%) and others (including Spain) 3.3% (3%).

Daniel Buchmueller, president IG River Cruise and chief services officer River Advice, commented: “The growing number of enthusiastic passengers from all over the world shows that river cruising is the ideal way to discover Europe, without having to change hotels all the time.”

It is clear from the varying statistics CE has gathered that there are some discrepancies but there is no doubting the growth of the market.

It was not until 2014 that Douglas Ward produced the first edition of Berlitz River Cruising in Europe, which contained the first attempt at providing a standard classification for the rivers in Europe. The guide was updated in 2017 and is another example of how far the industry has come in taking its place centre stage.

The number of river ships in Europe and Russia in 2018 totalled 529, representing 80,829 lower berths, according to a report published by GP Wild (International). Summarising the number of lower berths on European rivers over five years from 2012 to 2017, the report shows the clear dominance of the Rhine Danube corridor with almost three quarters of all capacity, as can be seen below:

Rhine Danube 24,277/36,466 (74%)
Rhone 2,424/3,264 (6.6%)
Seine 1,258/3,024 (6.1%)
Douro 938/2,204 (4.3%)
Danube 1,793/1,457 (3%)
Elbe 1,161/1,315 (2.7%)
Gironde 134/1,115 (2.3%)

(The remaining 1% capacity is attributed to the PO and Guidiana in Italy).

Between 2012 and 2019, 154 new river ships were delivered and put into service on European rivers, according to the GPW report. Given the short lead time, from order to delivery on these ships, it is difficult to predict the orderbook over the next few years. However demand and supply projections through to 2025 by GPW indicate the possible need for 27 newbuilds a year for the next six years.

One of the fastest growing companies to come onto the river scene in recent years is Viking River Cruises which took delivery of 56 ships in 2017 alone. Hence creating a mass market in river cruising which had not previously existed.

In studies commissioned by IG RiverCruise/The European River Cruise Association and the DRV (the German travel industry association) the pre-eminence of passengers from the USA over German passengers is proven. “Together, they represent a good 65% of all passengers on European rivers. If Australians are added to this, these three regions account for 70% of the market. Also worth mentioning are the British and the French. All other source markets are negligible” states IG in its River Cruise Directory published in July this year.

The UK and Ireland river cruise market grew 10.4% from 2017 to 2018, reaching 232,300 passengers, according to CLIA UK & Ireland. The number of bed nights increased by 12.1% to 1.8 million during the same period. Of these 207,000 chose to cruise on European rivers.

Europe continues to be the most popular region with central and western European destinations representing the largest share of the market at 64%. The Danube overtook the Rhine to become the most popular for river cruising. Together these account for 58% of passenger numbers. The Douro was the third most popular river with the 23,800 UK and Irish passengers in 2018 representing an almost 15% rise from 2017.

To demonstrate the extraordinary growth in the industry, UK passengers on the Danube in 2010 numbered 12,500 rising to 46,700 in 2017, the Douro went from 8,700 to 20,700, the Rhone/Seine from 8,000 to 24,900, and Russia from 4,400 to 10,800, according to CLIA UK & Ireland.

When it comes to France, CroisiEurope is a big player. Its fleet has grown from 10 in 2001 to 56 next year. International sales director Michel Grimm told CE: “The river cruise business has really gained in popularity of the last decade and this can be seen in all markets, especially in Europe and North America.”

In Europe, he said: “The Rhine and Danube remain by far the two most popular river cruise destinations but the Elbe is very popular too. The Douro has been growing in popularity for the last few years while the Rhone and Seine have become more popular over the last two years.”
(c) Port of Amsterdam