Is an end to the Nile drought in sight?

By Michelle Baran

 As with Egypt overall, it’s been touch and go with travel on the Nile River since the country’s January 2011 revolution introduced an era of political instability that has been hardMichelleBaran to shake.

But with this week’s presidential elections, combined with pent-up demand from passengers who have been waiting it out with Egypt, there are glimmers of hope that the ships on the Nile will soon start to move again.

Viking Cruises, which has continued offering Egypt sailings through the slowdown, said things are looking up for the back half of 2014 and into 2015.

“We are seeing some booking activity for the fall 2014 dates that are available,” said Richard Marnell, Viking’s senior vice president of marketing. “We’ve also received enough interest from customers that we made the decision to begin selling 2015 dates.

“Yes, there is still some uncertainty among some travelers who would like to visit the region. But we are optimistic about the 2015 season, and we have slightly increased our number of departures for next year.” 

Viking charters the 150-passenger Mayfair, built in 2010, on the Nile, and the 160-passenger Omar El Khayam, built in 2011, on Lake Nasser.

Abercrombie & Kent has added five departures this fall for its “Egypt & the Nile” itinerary and has announced additional dates for 2015. The itinerary includes a four-night Nile sailing onboard the 80-passenger Sun Boat IV.

“The current interest in travel to Egypt has even surprised us,” A&K President Phil Otterson said in a release about adding the departures. Otterson traveled to Egypt in March with 69 A&K guests. “It’s been a waiting game, for travelers, tour operators and Egyptians, but it looks like it’s finally turning a corner.”

For some operators, though, it’s too soon to make a call on Egypt just yet. They’ve been burned with having had to cancel departures or, in the case of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, which sails the 82-passenger River Tosca, a luxury vessel that was built exclusively for Uniworld, the company doesn’t have the option of returning unsold cabins.

“The River Tosca is our ship, and once we re-enter the market, we have a commitment and obligation to deliver a certain number of guests to make sure that we can operate the itinerary profitably,” said Uniworld President Guy Young. “Given the relative uncertainty in Egypt and our selling cycle for this destination, the earliest opportunity we see to re-enter the market would be the fall of 2015.”

Young noted that prior to the uprising in Egypt, the Tosca was operating at very high occupancy levels and the itinerary received fantastic feedback from guests.
Avalon Waterways, which had to cancel departures last year due to the unrest, will only reintroduce Nile itineraries when the situation appears considerably more stable.

“We do not have plans to reintroduce Egypt in 2015,” noted Avalon’s Managing Director Patrick Clark.

“We hope the presidential election brings stability — and tourists — to Egypt. It would be great to see Egypt return to its previous popularity among travelers,” he added. “And, while we prepare our 2016 plans for Avalon Waterways, we will be closely monitoring developments.”

Ups and downs in the life of a river cruise market

Ups and downs in the life of a river cruise market

By Michelle Baran

InsightIn terms of cruising, the world’s rivers are all at different stages of maturation. Whereas the Nile River is an old-timer, with a river cruising tradition that dates back decades, Europe’s inland waterways are the sage adults of the river cruising industry, having benefited from years of unprecedented growth, investment and development.

And then there are the industry’s newer entrants, destinations like Southeast Asia’s Mekong River and Peru’s Amazon, where product and infrastructure have been gaining strength in recent years.

There are also rivers like the Mississippi that are experiencing a recent rebirth.
And of course, the river cruise industry is always looking for the next breed of rivers, destinations like Myanmar’s Irrawaddy and India’s Ganges that are just now coming onto the scene. MichelleBaran

Regardless of where the river stands in the maturation process, there are advantages and disadvantages at each stage of development. Where Europe benefits from years of tweaking and perfecting the product, it also now faces the challenge of crowding and increased competition.

In emerging markets, the competition is less and the opportunities great, but so too are the frustrations of trying to building vessels that meet European standards in countries still rife with bureaucratic and economic problems.

A company like Breckenridge, Colo.-based Haimark is looking for opportunities in the emerging river cruise markets, hoping to capitalize on a river cruise industry that appears to be looking past the European boom.

Companies like Viking River Cruises, on the other hand, continue to invest heavily in the firmly established European market, where Viking clearly believes there is room for further growth as it prepares to launch another 14 ships there in 2014.

Are there some prenatal rivers on the horizon? Certainly. But river cruise lines are keeping pretty tight-lipped about them if there are.