Mindful Growth: River Cruise Execs Chart Sustainable Course

by Vanessa Lee

Ellen Bettridge, President and CEO
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Lisa McCaskill, Vice President Sales and Marketing, Canada - Scenic Luxury Cruises

Pam Hoffee, Avalon Waterways
Managing Director

Vanessa with Rudi Schreiner, AmaWaterways Co-Founder and CEO


Vanessa Lee recently interviewed senior executives and decision makers from four of North American’s leading river cruise brands and shared her findings with Open Jaw. 

The interviewees were:

Ellen Bettridge, President and CEO  Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Lisa McCaskill, Vice President Sales and Marketing, Canada -  Scenic Luxury Cruises

Pam Hoffee, Avalon Waterways Managing Director

Rudi Schreiner – AmaWaterways Co-Founder and CEO

The discussion focused on their approach to a maturing cruise market on European waterways and tackled issues including the growing capacity and number of ships, sustainability, docking challenges, new ports and more. The story will be presented in two parts in the coming days. 

Part 1: Mindful Growth Is Good Growth

A hot-button topic was adding new ports and differentiating itineraries – both to attract first-time river cruisers and, crucially, ensure repeat guests have enough fresh options to keep them loyal to their brand of choice.  

One company that stands out in this regard is AmaWaterways, which has added several new ports of call in recent years. “There is no shortage of historic towns along the river banks – it just takes a bit of work to prepare them to welcome our guests,” Rudi Schreiner states. 

“Over the past few years, we have added new ports such as Grein, Lahnstein and Ludwigshafen on the Rhine and Volkach on the Main, and we are working on developing new ports and also using existing ports which have rarely been used before.”    

There’s a similar story at Uniworld.

“With certain ports becoming increasingly popular we are always looking for the next undiscovered port to dock at. In 2020, we’ll be taking guests to Burano, Italy and docking overnight which is a first for any cruise line,” says Ellen Bettridge. 

Another new itinerary for Uniworld in 2020 is a Rhine, Moselle and Blissful Baden-Baden itinerary with stops at places many cruisers would not know about otherwise. That seems to be the goal of many river cruise companies these days – finding smaller, lesser-known towns and villages along the Rhine and Danube that they can work with and create a call that benefits both the customer and the communities along these rivers.  

Pioneering New Ports & Experiences

Each line has a team on the ground with the purpose of discovering new port options and also to provide more and novel choices for guests during their time ashore.

With a burgeoning interest in wellness and healthy activities onboard most river ships these days and with a goal of attracting a more active and younger client, the Active & Discovery program from Avalon Waterways is front and centre in this process. 

As Pam Hoffee states: “Our new Active & Discovery itineraries take our travellers off-the-beaten path (or river), to experience many new destinations along the Rhine, Danube and Rhône Rivers. One great example is our Active & Discovery on the Danube cruises. We stop in the less visited port of Visegrad, Hungary. This charming port has a deep and important history and was one of the most important medieval cities in Hungary.”  Here our guests can choose from two “active” excursions, one hiking and a second canoeing.”

Scenic’s Lisa McCaskill says the line is always on the lookout for additional ports of call that will attract their loyal cruisers.

“It is our goal to find and offer less travelled towns and villages and our research team always keeps tabs on these to allow for a more enjoyable experience for our guests. This is most important for our loyalty guests. We continue to find ways to tweak the itineraries we have – focusing some itineraries on fewer stops with more time to explore.”

How Much Is Too Much?

With the recent arrival of the first purpose-built double-wide ship on the Danube – the lauded AmaMagna, Schreiner tells us that the line has “locked in a unique docking place in Spitz in the Wachau (Valley) for 2020/21 and beyond. We also just completed the construction of a new docking place in Vilshofen which was built especially for the AmaMagna, since double-wide ships were not allowed to dock here previously.” 

This is an example of river lines working more closely with communities ashore to mitigate any irritations that may occur as major growth continues. 

Schreiner takes this very seriously. He believes there’s plenty of room for growth, but it has to be done intelligently.

“The total number of passenger river cruise ships is still today dwarfed by the number of freight ships on these rivers. All river cruise lines are exploring new ports of call and new itineraries and there is plenty of room for growth on these rivers. All tourism development needs to be aware of the impact is has on the communities and we are closely working with the local communities in how to best benefit them economically with the smallest footprints on their environment.”

Avalon’s Hoffee says river cruise growth has to be kept in perspective. “While it’s true that in the last two decades, the popularity of river cruising along these rivers has made waves (the market grew 111% between 2004 and 2017), river cruising is still small business. River cruise vessels make up only 3.6% of overall river traffic on Europe’s waterways, with the average ship housing fewer than 150 guests.” 

Scenic agrees and Lisa McCaskill states: “Conservation and mindfulness when travelling will need to become the norm. Travellers visit for a day, or sometimes only half a day, but the residents, the people they are so eager to meet when they step off the ship, they are there to stay. Mindfulness can be exercised in reducing plastic pollution (no single use plastic left behind), reducing noise pollution after hours or just being respectful of private spaces. We are taking a collaborative effort in our organization to be mindful.” 

Next: Part 2: Progress On Plastic & Preserving A Precious Environment

Vanessa Lee

Vanessa Lee Columnist

An internationally-known luxury cruise expert, Vanessa is publisher and editor of Cruise and Travel Lifestyles magazine. She appears with Nina on the bi-monthly video Cruise Factor.

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