Making a run at the cost-conscious consumer

At a time when other river cruise lines are scaling back on growth, French river cruise company CroisiEurope this week announced it will launch seven new river cruise vessels this year and next.

Granted not all seven are full-size European river cruise ships — two are 22-passenger canal barges, and one is launching on the Mekong — but still, seven ships is worth noting, especially for a company many of us here in the U.S. didn’t know much, if anything, about as recently as a couple years ago.

By the time these seven vessels are launched, CroisiEurope will have 46 company-owned vessels in its fleet. In 2014, the company carried some 200,000 cruise passengers (compared to the approximately 250,000 passengers carried by Viking River Cruises), although only about 8,000 to 9,000 of those hailed from the U.S. But CroisiEurope is growing its U.S customer base, and quickly.

So, what’s the deal with Croisi? Well, the company saw an opening at the lower end of the river cruise market and it is clearly going after it. For a long time, river cruising has grappled with a reputation of being a bit pricey. Travel agents would lament that while they wanted to sell more river cruises, especially since the very inclusive vacation style generally offers lofty commissions, not all of their clients could afford it.

Therein lies the opportunity for CroisiEurope, which after 40 years of building river cruise ships in Europe, is banking on its home-turf shipbuilding ties and a more pared down version of river cruising to bring lower prices to market. And while CroisiEurope’s older vessels do not compete with the sleek newbuilds being churned out by U.S.-facing river cruise lines such as Viking, AmaWaterways, Avalon, Uniworld and all the rest, the company has upped its ship design game and its newest batch of river cruise ships is focused on chicer interiors and enhanced amenities.

Another line going after this segment with arguably even chicer ships is Emerald Waterways, the lower-priced sister brand to Scenic. And it is having a good deal of success too. Having only launched in 2014, Emerald is on pace to have seven river cruise ships in Europe by 2017 (its fifth vessel, the 182-passenger Emerald Belle, was slated to launch this spring, but has been set back by a fire in the shipyard).

As river cruising piques more travelers’ interests, and the travel style opens up to a wider audience, there is clearly going to be more demand for and thus greater opportunity to provide a more accessible river cruising experience.

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