The good news is that river cruising has grown by 25% over the past five years more than triple the total growth rate of all cruise brands, according to CLIA’s 2015 State of the Industry report. The better news is that the passengers include a younger generation of inquisitive and high-income travelers.
“As much as river cruising has grown over the past few years it’s only going to go to higher levels” thanks to Millennials,” said CLIA’s vice president of trade relations Charles Sylvia.
Sylvia moderated a river cruise panel that brought together six executives from river cruise lines—and most agreed they are seeing a new demographic.
Don’t count out the kids
While traditionally river cruising has appeared to cater to an older generation with more income and more time to spend away from home—Travelsense says river cruise passengers have an average age of 61 with an average income of $80,000—“family travel and multigenerational travel is really set to explode,” said Chris Greco, brand manager at Tauck River Cruising.
The 91-year-old company has been in the river cruise business since 2006 and has been selling its family product—Tauck Bridges—since 2008, but Greco said he’s never seen so many families with young children taking river cruises. “We just see increasing demand, with grandparents, whole families, or just parents and their kids traveling,” he said.
Greco thinks it’s the nature of what river cruises provide—making the destination the experience rather than the ship—that attracts families. “You want to be able to share the world experiences. People don’t want to collect things, they want to collect experiences. And what better gift to give your family than the opportunity to experience Europe?”
John Restuccia, director of national accounts of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, agreed, noting that “it’s about the destination, the intimacy that river cruising can bring, because there are fewer people traveling. There is more attention to touch points.”
This week, Uniworld released 11 new family-orientated itineraries for 2016, including sailings on the Rhine, Danube, and Seine. It only sailed five of its family-friendly cruises in 2015.
Uniworld has also specifically targeted younger travelers with its Young Travelers Lounge—an activity center for on all of its multigenerational ships and activities like dessert making with a ship’s pastry chef.
CroisiEurope’s director of national accounts Cindy Christen said the inclusion of millennials and younger generations into river cruise companies’ target audience is just the natural evolution of the industry. “River cruising is not boring, there’s a lot going on,” she said. “We’ve got things for the millennials and we’re starting to introduce things for the younger generations too.”
CroisiEurope’s seven-day Saône et Loire and La Côte d’Or sailings include two physically-intensive excursions, for example: two days with bicycle tours and a hike through Cirque du Bout du Monde, a Natura 2000 natural site.
For travel agents trying to sell river cruises—whose all-inclusive nature can earn agents high commissions—director of sales at American Cruise Lines Susan Shultz suggested focusing on the fact that it’s all about seeing a place rather than a ship.
“Ask them what they liked about the large cruise ships and what they didn’t like—and I guarantee they’ll say they didn’t have enough time at the destinations,” she said.
Pic: Mike1979 Russia