The allure of the river cruise offers an intimate form of travel, helping to attract older travellers traditionally associated with luxury cruise operators.

The river experience can take tourists through various cultural centres via a novel form of transport visiting popular European destinations along the Rhine, Danube and Douro.

Major tour operators, such as Thomas Cook and TUI, have capitalised on river cruises, recognising the benefits of indulging all traveller markets.

River cruises 2019

The ABTA Travel Trends Report for 2018 recognises river cruises as a growing trend for British travellers, prompting major package holidays tour operators to increasingly incorporate river offerings into their product range.

Thomas Cook has partnered up with river cruise specialists such as Viking river cruises, Scenic, Emerald, Shearing, Newmarket and Fred.Olsen. TUI, a German tour operator, recently purchased three passenger ships as part of efforts to offer river cruise deals.

A direct and personalised approach

Baby boomers and the ‘silent generation’ are the traditional target markets for the cruise industry, with about half of cruise travellers aged over 55-years, according to ITB Berlin World Travel Trends report (2018/2019).

What operators are selling is comfort and simplicity of travel as well as a friendly ambience – cruises offer the perfect opportunity for relaxation while sightseeing worldwide.

And yet, what may have once been a tranquil experience for the older generation is becoming a crowded and compact environment due to the ever-expanding visitor capacity for the larger cruise operators. A typical river cruise holds an average capacity of around 100 to 250 passengers compared to an average of over 3,000 passengers on mega cruise liners.

The Symphony of the Seas, one of many cruise ships owned by Royal Caribbean, acts as one of the largest cruise operators holding a staggering 5,518 guests. Thus, the comparison with large cruise ships is stark and accentuates the distinct experience offered by each operator.

By entertaining a smaller group of people, staff can interact on a more personal level with travellers. For many travellers, something may be lost through the large cruise experience due to the consistent influx of people. Likewise, due to less passenger capacity, the opportunity to form companionships is more easily achieved, improving the overall traveller experience.

The cruise industry is changing

Millennials and GenZ are expressing more interest in the cruise industry. Major cruise companies are offering increasingly specialised cruises that target LGBT groups, ravers and wellness or environmentally conscious travellers.

Stereotypically, older generations have occupied the largest market segment for cruise holidays, and while older generations remain inherently interested in this form of travel, river cruises still hold the potential to further capture this market providing a more personalised and customised approach.

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