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A push for authentic, intimate luxury travel experiences and a bad stretch for the ocean-going cruise industry has done wonders for demand for river cruise ships in Europe, and in Egypt despite political tensions.
More Britons than ever took a river cruise last year, pushing numbers up 14 per cent to almost 130,000, the latest figures from the Passenger Shipping Association show.
European river cruises alone saw an increase of 12 per cent to a record 90,000.
While the number of people taking an ocean cruise grew less than 0.1 per cent last year – reaching a total of 1,701,000 – demand for rivers journeys soared. Safety issues in the wake of the Costa Concordia disaster, a burgeoning number of river-cruise itineraries and investment in ships and greater political stability in Egypt are cited as contributory factors to growth.
The launch of modern vessels with full-size balconies has also encouraged ocean cruisers to try a river cruise. Some 30 per cent of river cruisers last year had taken one or two ocean cruises and 23 per cent had sailed on six or more. Viking River Cruises said half of its enquiries are now from ocean cruise passengers.
Underlining the growth in the rivers sector, French river cruise line CroisiEurope will be exhibiting at the Telegraph Cruise Show in London for the first time this year, while APT and hotel barge operator European Waterways are returning after a break, joining the likes of Viking, Avalon Waterways, Uniworld River Cruising and AmaWaterways. The show takes place at Olympia on March 23-24.
After dropping to second place last year due to the Arab Spring, the Nile was again the most popular river destination in 2012, attracting just over 28,000 passengers. An improvement on the 25,000 in 2011; but far short of the 58,000 who cruised the river in 2010.
The Rhine and its tributaries, attracting almost 27,000 passengers, were not far behind, with the Danube in third place with 15,000.
When it comes to ocean cruising, no-fly cruising was the winner, with almost as many passengers choosing to cruise from a British port as fly to join their ship – 807,000 compared with 894,000 respectively. It’s a big turnaround from just five years ago, when fly-cruises accounted for 65 cent of the market; no-fly cruising at 35 per cent.
Conversely, the Caribbean suffered a massive 21 cent downturn in demand as cruisers avoided the high flight costs, inflated by Air Passenger Duty, and security queues at airports.
The Caribbean’s loss was Northern Europe’s gain, with a 29 per cent increase in British cruise passengers in 2012 to a total 443,000. The Mediterranean remained the favourite place among Britons, but numbers were down 9 per cent to 698,000.