(9:23 a.m. ET) -- River cruising has bounced back to pre-pandemic levels with travellers booking longer itineraries and cruise lines attracting younger, active people. Sustainability is another trend with one line reporting a 30 percent drop in food waste after ditching the traditional buffet set up.
The topics were discussed at the CLIA U.K. & Ireland Riverview Conference 2023 that was held in Vienna at the weekend.
Delegates heard that river cruising was booming with 12 new ships launched last year and new companies entering the market, including the all-new Riverside Luxury Cruises which was founded after acquiring all five river ships previously operated by the former Crystal Cruises.
Richard Twynam, U.K. and Ireland Managing Director of Scenic & Emerald Cruises, told delegates: "We set ourselves a goal in 2023 to get to 2019 levels and we have already achieved that. We have also seen a demand for longer cruises on both lines with more people booking 10 and 11-night itineraries."
Chris Hackney, the Managing Director of TUI River Cruises, said the line was attracting younger passengers and people who previously went on city breaks.
"We are getting younger customers who have realised a river cruise is a great way to see a number of different destinations in five days or more,” he said. “The demand for our Christmas market cruises has been phenomenal. Last year we ran them on two of our ships but for the coming winter we will use all three ships."
His views were echoed by Jamie Loizou, the U.K. Managing Director of AmaWaterways, who said that in the current economic climate passengers were appreciating the value of river cruising compared with land-based holidays and booking longer cruises, as well as fixed price pre- and post-cruise extensions offered by the line.
"Hotel prices in European cities have sky-rocketed in recent months so visiting those places on a floating hotel is far better value," he said. "Compare a river cruise with 24 hours staying in a central hotel in Amsterdam, Budapest or Vienna including accommodation with a pool, meals, shore excursions, drinks and entertainment. The river cruise will set you back 30 percent less."
Kristin Karst, the Executive Vice President, Co-founder and Co-owner of AmaWaterways, also outlined the popularity of longer cruises and exotic cruises -- including the line's 49-night sailings taking in seven European rivers and the first-ever sailings on Colombia's Magdelana River that will debut in 2024 -- along with the changing perception of river cruises.
"We have just installed a full-size pickleball court on our ship AmaMagna," she said. "This is because we are attracting younger passengers who want to keep active when they are away. People are realising river cruising is not just for the elderly, it is for younger, active people too."
Commenting on the trend for longer cruises she added: "People are making up for lost time. We saw that world cruises are very successful for ocean cruise lines and so we launched our Seven River Journey. Travellers, including those that have done all the rivers in Europe, are looking at more exotic destinations and Colombia is a fantastic new destination with a huge amount of diverse wildlife."
Asked if AmaWaterways was looking to introduce any more pioneering destinations she hinted: "There will always be more rivers to cruise."
AmaWaterways is also among the lines that has introduced eco-friendly initiatives which resulted the company achieving Green Award certification based on the environmental impact of its engines, fuel consumption and waste management systems. Other lines flagging up green credentials include A-Rosa River Cruises, which launched the first battery-powered ship A-Rosa Sena in 2022, and this year Amadeus River Cruises will debut Amadeus Riva which has specially designed engines to reduce emissions.
Karst revealed that having removed breakfast and lunch buffets for hygiene reasons in early post-pandemic sailings the line had made this a permanent feature due to a dramatic reduction in food waste.
"With a buffet people go in towards the end of the mealtime and expect to see a full buffet set out," she said. "This is very wasteful as you can't give the food away to local people and it just gets thrown away. Our food waste was reduced by 30 percent through stopping the buffets and we have continued this at breakfast and lunch when we previously had a buffet. Passengers are offered portions of all the different dishes and they can order what they want depending how hungry they are, and of course they can order as many as they want if they want more."