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Riding the wave of the river cruise boom

Make the most of a growth market fuelled by demand from adventure-hungry Millenials, says Peter Whittle, Global Sales Director at Traveltek.

River cruising has never been so popular – in fact bookings are at an all-time high with demand growing at a faster rate than for ocean cruises.

Once deemed the domain of the ‘grey’ market, the river cruise has piqued the interest of younger travellers, and if you are wondering what is driving this trend, it’s simple – choice.

Millennials are seeking adventure and one-of-a-kind experiences and river cruises transport them to new places where active pursuits are in abundance.

From hiking to kayaking, there is now much more to river cruising than standard walking tours and most lines now provide bicycles that can be used by passengers in port for guided – or self-guided – tours of the destinations they are visiting.

Working on the premise that ‘smaller is better’, river cruise lines and adventure companies are building a rapport with young travellers by offering them boutique cruises that transport small groups to ‘off-the-beaten-track’ locations.

The promise of exclusivity and adventure is paying dividends, which has seen the rise of new dynamic players in the market.

Traveltek partners such as G Adventures offer a river cruise programme that appeals to young adventurous types, taking in destinations ranging from the Ganges to the Mekong, with the Amazon thrown in for good measure.

At the same time, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, another Traveltek customer, is introducing a new river cruise brand targeting holidaymakers aged 21 to 45.

U by Uniworld takes its cue from sister company Contiki, the tour operator for travellers aged 18 to 35, and will start sailing with two ships in April next year.

Existing ships from its fleet will be revamped to cater to a younger audience and will feature ‘silent discos’, live DJs and new, cutting-edge restaurant concepts. Passengers will be able to curate their own off-shore itineraries and take part in adventure-focused activities.

As passenger demand for river cruises rockets and new operators take to the waters, the travel trade needs to be well equipped to fulfill the subsequent rise in booking and itinerary requests.

UK travel firms are already noticing the market shift with one well-known agency recently reporting a 50% hike in river cruise sales over the past six months.

Traveltek is playing a key role in facilitating the growth of the river cruise market as cruise lines and operators look to boost their distribution capabilities to leading cruise agencies.

UK-based Emerald Waterways and Uniworld are amongst the major industry players to take advantage of our solutions because we provide them with a powerful distribution platform, giving agents access to live availability, pricing and online booking functionality for their products via their Traveltek-powered websites or point-of-sale systems.

We are making it quick and easy for river cruise lines to do business with agents at a time when their products and services are in hot demand.

Agents are also realising the value of our technology, because we not only give them the ability to search multiple river cruise lines to find the best cruise to meet the needs of their clients, but offer them the chance to combine this with our dynamic packaging engine, generating more revenue-earning opportunities by upselling connecting flights, pre- and post-cruise stays, and more. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

As the river cruise market blossoms, we anticipate a spike in requests for technology from operators looking to distribute their products in the most efficient manner possible and from agents who want to stand out from the crowd by dynamically packaging river cruises with other travel components.

We look forward to having them all on board!