River cruising is still the fastest-growing sector in the cruise industry -- with a 12 percent increase in passenger numbers last year -- but growth in 2013 would not be as strong, said Paul Sharp, Sales Director for Diamond Holiday Group.
A total of 58,000 passengers sailed on the Nile in 2010, but last year it was just 28,000 -- and this will fall even further once 2013 figures are tallied early next year.
Responding to a question about whether river cruising's growth in 2013 would be impacted by the Egyptian market, Sharp said: “If you look at Egypt, the figures overall in the industry went down.”
Calling Egypt the “elephant in the room,” he addressed declining numbers in the region by saying “the bottom of the market dropped out.”
Ongoing violence in Egypt has forced both river and ocean-going cruise lines to cancel itineraries and, in some cases, cease operations in the country altogether.
Britain's Foreign & Commonwealth Office last week partially lifted a travel warning for U.K. citizens in Egypt, but according to figures Sharp cited from the Cruise Lines International Association -- the cruise industry's marketing arm -- cruise passenger numbers in Egypt have shown a steep decline since the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings of 2011.
Sharp also said, however, that once charter and commercial airlines resumed normal operations, cruise lines would quickly follow. “Give it another two years and it will hopefully be back,” he said. “I think, if anything, there's so much interest in the Nile that … once these [flights] open back up, we'll be back in there immediately.”
Sharp and others also highlighted Europe as the continuing key area of strength in the river cruise market, and encouraged travel agents to offer ocean cruise-style combination packages -- including flights, rail, coach or ferry tickets along with hotel bookings for pre- and post-cruise stays -- in order to maximize revenue.
Additionally, Sharp said that, in spite of heavy flooding on the Danube in early summer this year, river cruising remained popular for 2014: “When you look at the river cruise industry in Europe, it went from strength to strength [in 2013]." --by Jamey Bergman, U.K. Production Editor