River cruising is one of the fastest growing sectors in worldwide tourism, outgrowing even the expanding ocean cruise sector: “River cruise lines are having trouble keeping up with the demand,” says Julie Walsh, the director of marketing for Cruise Travel Outlet, a booking website. “We are booking most of our customers on river cruises for 2014 because space is sold out for 2013.” (Source: Marketwatch)
This growth is my key reason to have a look at six river cruise vessels of Dutch Feenstra Rijn Lijn (Feenstra Rhine Line), that were open to the public in Arnhem this weekend. Lured by tours of the ships and free coffee with cake in the ship’s restaurants, several hundreds of potential river cruise passengers left the safe shores of the Arnhem riverside to explore this growing holiday trend.
With my visit I wanted to explore this statement: “Much of this rapid growth [stems] from travelers age 50 and up, industry insiders say. “The sweet spot for river cruises is 50 to 70,” says Patrick Clark, the managing director of Avalon, a river cruise line. This age group is more likely to have sent the kids out of the house, so they have more time and resources to spend on travel, Clark explains; and because they’ve been traveling for years, he adds, many like the novelty of the river-cruise idea.” (Marketwatch, 2013).
To see if the stereotypical pensioner image of the river cruise passenger still holds true, I took my 11-year old son, asking him to see if a river cruise would also be fun for kids and families. After all, pensioners were the core customers of ocean cruises in the 70’s and 80’s, but they have since discovered families and kids as another market for rapid growth. Perhaps my son could help me spot a similar trend in river cruise holidays…
I realize that I am pushing the limits here, by clearly not being a target customer for this particular cruise line. Reading some of the online and independent passenger reviews of even the older vessels, I see they are rated very favourably. Passengers appreciate the high level of service of the crew and the quality of the food on board. In most reviews this satisfaction with on-board hospitality far outweighs the lack of comfort that I perceived during my non-sailing open day visit. My short interactions with the crew totally confirm this feeling of being welcome. As we all know: it is the people – staff and fellow passengers – that make or break a holiday experience.
Back to the future now. I believe that there is even more growth potential for this fast growing tourism sector. Once the first European river cruise line dares to outfit a ship specifically for families, you may find that this is the next big thing in cruise tourism. It should be relatively easy to combine a river cruise with fun activities for kids, like rock climbing or visiting attraction parks along the river. I hope that my son may be able to genuinely enjoy a river cruise on the Rhine, Danube, Volga, Mississippi or Nile before he is 50+.
Check out the current offering at the Feenstra Rhine Line website. Thank you for the hospitality of the crews of mps Rembrandt van Rijn, mps Poseidon, mps Salvinia, mps Statendam, mps Azolla en mps Horizon in Arnhem today!