Piggybacking on the river boom

Craigslist

By Michelle Baran
Do you ever find yourself, as I often do, reflecting about a seemingly simple concept that has become incredibly successful (like Craigslist, the beyond basic classifieds website now worth hundreds of millions of dollars), and say to yourself, “Drats! Now why didn’t I think of that?!”

As the river cruise market continues to boom, some in the travel industry might be feeling that very sentiment about river cruising. They might have a little case of river cruise envy as it were — “If only I had thought to start building riverboats several years ago,” the regretful might muse.

Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

But rather than bemoan the fact that they aren’t among the pioneering companies that built up the river cruising market, several factions of the travel industry have instead been working to benefit from the myriad of business opportunities that have arisen in light of the the river cruise industry’s success, and their piggybacking strategy is working.

For instance, the wholesale tour operator Avanti Destinations has been promoting its customizable FIT offerings as pre- and post-cruise city-stays that agents can tack onto a river cruise to increase their earnings.

“We encourage agents to ask their cruise clients about adding extra days — or even a week — to their itinerary,” said Harry Dalgaard, president and founder of Avanti.

“We’ve had clients, for example, who start with a Danube cruise, add a few nights in Vienna, continue on to Salzburg and then head to Florence, the Tuscan countryside and Rome before returning home,” he added.

The result is that Avanti is seeing big booking windfalls in destinations linked to river cruising. In the past year, the company has seen bookings for Bordeaux and Lyon in France increase 85% and 100%, respectively; bookings for Budapest, Hungary, have grown 30%; and for Nuremberg, Germany, bookings have jumped a whopping 175%.

Consequently, Avanti has developed new pre- and post-cruise suggested itineraries geared specifically toward river cruisers, including a three-day Bordeaux package (from $725 per person), a three-day Amsterdam itinerary (from $595 per person), a three-day Nuremberg package (from $329 per person), and a three-day Vienna package (from $515 per person).

Travel agents too are getting in on the action. Several years ago, it was difficult to find any agents that were dedicated solely to the river cruise market or who knew very much about it. But today, there is a growing roster of river cruise specialists, including several that have been featured in Travel Weekly, that have built up an entire agency business and/or website focused only on river cruising.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether you had the good idea in the first place. What matters is whether you can make someone else’s good idea work in your favor. The river cruise industry isn’t just one business, it is a ripple effect of businesses and opportunities for those who choose to ride the wake.

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I think we all should talk

By Michelle Baran
InsightAmid another busy river cruise ship christening season, talking shop and comparing notes about the competition with executives in the river cruise industry, it occurred to me that the river cruising sector could use a good old-fashioned coffee talk.

Whenever I meet up with executives in the river cruise industry, inevitably some of the same issues come up: things like whether crowding on the rivers in Europe is increasingly becoming an issue as more newbuilds continue to launch, and the pros and cons of onboard amenities like balconies and pools.

In a recent post, I addressed the fact that the river cruise industry could benefit from an association dedicated to the issues that are specific to this quickly growing segment of the travel marketplace.

But until that happens, I think those of us who cover river cruising, those who sell the product and, of course, the river cruise lines themselves would benefit from a meeting in which the heads of the major river cruise companies all got together and had a sort of working group discussion.MichelleBaran

I have proposed the idea of moderating such a forum with some of the major river cruise lines, and interest was expressed. With all of our busy travel and work schedules, and with an already jam-packed calendar of industry events ahead of us, I’m not sure how and whether we can pull it off.

But I’m putting it out there anyways. This is a critical time for the river cruise industry. Things are developing quickly, and the business is growing at a lightning pace. This is exactly the time to tackle potential problems as well as to highlight the opportunities that lie ahead.

A certain degree of cooperation already exists between the river cruise lines — they aren’t entirely silent foes — especially when it comes to concerns that everyone has to address, such as staggering departures in a way so that lines can share limited port space and not overwhelm the smaller towns they visit by all pulling in at once.

But beyond that, there are topics that could use further dissection, and circumstances that could become detrimental to the industry if not addressed, such as crowding and sustainability.

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.