In 2019, the European river cruise sector continued to grow compared to 2018, reaching 378 active vessels with 54,814 beds. The newbuilding rate was high with 19 new vessels entering the market.

• A second growth indicator for the European inland cruising sector in 2019 is the nearly 10% growth in demand, reaching 1.79 million passengers (of which 44% to 49% came from non-European countries).

• Growth in river cruise vessels traffic is also a sign of the positive development in the sector both on the Rhine (+24% compared to 2018) and the Danube (in particular +30% for the Middle Danube and almost +35% for the Lower Danube).

 

FLEET FOR RIVER CRUISES

Hader, A. (2019), The River Cruise Fleet

  • Europe has the largest cruise fleet today, followed by the Nile and other African rivers. The active cruise fleet in Europe represents more than 40% of the world active cruise fleet. The fleet for river cruises in the EU region is mainly concentrated on Central European waterways (Rhine, Main, Main-Danube Canal, Danube, Elbe-Oder) (close to 75% of the total river cruise fleet in the EU). The river cruise fleet in Europe (The European River cruise fleet, as it is defined in this report (cruise vessels with more than 39 beds), comprises the fleet in the EU and in Switzerland) has constantly increased since 2004, to reach 378 active vessels in 2019 with 54,814 beds (compared to 359 in 2018 with 52,078 beds).
  •  

    FIGURE 1: NUMBER OF RIVER CRUISE VESSELS IN THE EU BY REGION OF OPERATION (2004 – 2019)


    Source: Hader, A. (2019), The River Cruise Fleet
     

  • In the 2019 season, 19 entirely new vessels were introduced to the market. One more vessel also re-joined the active cruising market after a long lay-up phase. One other was removed from the database.
  • The high number of new cruise vessels in 2019 (almost two times higher than in 2018) can be explained by an increase in demand from US-American customers and a healthy demand in the German speaking market. Out of these 19 new vessels, 14 joined the fleet operating on Central European waterways, one joined the fleet operating on the Danube only and four will navigate on the Douro. For the Danube, the new cruise vessels that entered the market enjoyed an increased comfort, an increased energy efficiency and a draft of about 1.8 m.
  • Nineteen new buildings were also expected to join the market in 2020: 13 on central European waterways, two on the Douro and four on the Seine. Seven were expected to be dedicated to the German speaking market, which was far greater compared to the last years.
  • The order book for new river cruise vessels in 2020 considered in this chapter pre-dates the Covid-19 crisis, which heavily affected the river cruise segment in 2020 and will affect it also during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. The impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the newbuilding activity is expected to be felt in 2021 and 2022.
  •  

    FIGURE 2: NEW RIVER CRUISE VESSELS FOR THE EUROPEAN MARKET 2004-2021*


    Source: Hader, A. (2019), The River Cruise Fleet
    * 2020: forecast based on order books
    *2021: on order in May 2020.

     

  • Depending on the shipyard, it can take up to 12 months to build a river cruise vessel. Moreover, new river cruise vessels are usually delivered at the beginning of the season or in the summer period, at the latest. Therefore, for the year 2020, the construction of most of the new cruise vessels ordered are already being finalised.
  • For the 2021 season, many newbuilding contracts have already been signed, in some cases building has already started, or at least some parts of the ship are already in production. Given the strong economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the river cruise sector, companies are experiencing financial difficulties, and some mitigation measures may be taken, for instance, by postponing some contracts or staggering payments for such contracts.
  • As well as creating difficulties in relation to ongoing contracts, the number of new constructions may also decrease in 2021 and 2022. Indeed, early in 2020, newbuilding contracts foreseen for the year 2021 were supposed to be confirmed, but for some, the confirmations did not take place.
  • An example of this was in 2016 – following the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris – when for several months fewer US-American tourists visited Europe, and the number of new river cruise vessels decreased in 2016, 2017, and 2018, to pick-up only in 2019 and 2020 (forecast). This example suggests that 2022 may in part be the year when the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on newbuilding constructions will be felt.
  • It is possible that the Covid-19 crisis leads to a withdrawal of some existing river cruise vessels from the market in 2020 and 2021. Since 2005, 27 vessels have been withdrawn from the EU river cruise fleet, including five during the 2009 economic crisis.
  •  

    FIGURE 3: NUMBER OF RIVER CRUISE VESSELS IN THE EU BY YEAR OF CONSTRUCTION


    Source: Hader, A. (2019), The River Cruise Fleet
     

  • In 2019, the 19 new vessels brought an additional capacity of 3,131 beds to the river cruise market in Europe. However, the net increase of the capacity in 2019 is 2,769 beds (+5.3%). In 2020, the extra capacity should be 3,158 beds, for the same number of new vessels expected to join the market.
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    FIGURE 4: NEW CRUISE CAPACITIES IN 2018, 2019 AND 2020 PER REGION OF OPERATION* (NUMBER OF BEDS)


    Source: Hader, A. (2019), The River Cruise Fleet
    *R/M/M/D = Rhine/Main/Main-Danube Canal/Danube. In 2018, the new beds in the Danube and the Benelux (181 beds) are the result from conversion or modernisation of existing vessels. In 2019, 150 new beds on the Rhine are also the result of conversion of an existing vessel. 2020: forecast based on order books.

     

  • As for the number of new buildings, and based on order books, the average number of beds in new cruise vessels seems to be rising again, after a decrease between 2014 and 2018. Indeed, seven large cruise vessels with a high passenger capacity (190 beds) came on the market in 2019 and navigate on the Rhine/Main-Danube canal. In addition, the AMAMAGNA, the largest river cruise vessel ever built for Europe, with 196 beds, also joined the market in 2019 and navigates on the Danube only.
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    FIGURE 5: AVERAGE NUMBER OF BEDS IN NEW RIVER CRUISE VESSELS IN EUROPE BY YEAR OF CONSTRUCTION*


    Source: Hader, A. (2019), The River Cruise Fleet
    *Figure for 2020: forecast

     

  • Switzerland (172 vessels) is the country with the highest number of registered river cruise vessels. It also has a large share on the Rhine and Danube as well as on the Rhône-Saône and on the Seine. In second position comes Germany, where 53 river cruise vessels are registered, which mostly operate on the Rhine and Danube. There are also as many river cruise vessels registered in Malta and in the Netherlands with respectively 43 and 41 vessels.
  •  

    FIGURE 6: RIVER CRUISE VESSELS REGISTERED IN THE EU IN 2019* (IN NUMBER OF VESSELS)


    Source: Hader, A (2019)
    *Other countries include Belgium, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Poland, Ukraine, Moldavia. Only one river cruise vessel is registered in each.

     

  • Vessels registered in the Netherlands sail mainly on Dutch rivers, the Rhine and the Main-Danube Canal, while those registered in Malta sail mainly in the Rhine-Main-Danube area and occasionally in France. 32 river cruise vessels are registered in France, sailing mainly on French waters and in the Rhine/Danube areas. 19 vessels are registered in Portugal, sailing almost exclusively on the Douro. The region where there are the most important number of river cruise vessels registered in different countries remains the Rhine/Danube area.

 
 
 

DEMAND FOR RIVER CRUISES

  • The 2019 figures revealed by SeaConsult and IG River Cruise (the European River Cruise Association representing approximately 70% of the operators active in Europe) show that the European river cruise sector was in a healthy state before the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of river cruise passengers continued to increase in 2019 to reach a level of 1.79 million passengers (+9.9%).
  • For the European river cruise market, in 2019 the US-Americans and Canadians remained the most important source market for the fifth year in a row with a share of 36.7%, followed by Germans (28.3%). The British and Irish (11.8%) come in third position, followed by Australians and New Zealanders (7.5%), recording a significant growth of 30% compared to 2018, and the French (7.1%). Other countries represented 4.4% in 2019, an increase driven by a higher number of Chinese passengers cruising in Europe.
  •  

    FIGURE 7: NUMBER OF PASSENGERS ON EUROPEAN CRUISE VESSELS BY NATIONALITY (IN 1,000)


    Sources: SeaConsult, IG River Cruise (2019), Der Fluss-Kreuzfahrtmarkt 2019
     

  • In Germany, the number of river cruise passengers rose by 9.0% in 2019, and ticket sales by 10.5% compared to 2018, which was also a year where a strong increase in ticket sales had been recorded (+18%).
  • The average age of river cruise passengers in Germany increased in 2019, with 84.1% of all German passengers being over 56 years old. Almost 35% were in the 56 to 65 range-bracket (compared to 26.7% in 2018, which saw a wave of younger passengers). The 26 to 40 age group decreased to a 3.8% share in 2019 (8.3% in 2018) as well as the 41 to 55 age group whose share was 10.3% in 2019 (18.3% in 2018) (Source: IG River Cruise / DRV / SeaConsult (2019), Der Fluss-Kreuzfahrtmarkt 2019).
  • The number of cruise vessels passing through the lock of Iffezheim on the Upper Rhine was 2,929 in 2019, which represented a strong increase of 24% compared to 2018. Cruise vessel traffic on the Upper Danube at the German-Austrian border downstream of Passau was 1.2% higher in 2019, with 3,668 vessels passing the lock of Jochenstein (The statistics for most other German rivers were not available in 2019, due to the abolition of user charges on inland waterways in Germany).
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    FIGURE 8: YEARLY NUMBER OF CRUISE SHIP TRANSITS ON EUROPEAN RIVERS


    Source: German Waterway and Shipping Administration
    *Sum of upstream and downstream traffic of cabin vessels at the following locks: Jochenstein (Danube), Iffezheim (Rhine), Koblenz (Moselle)

     

  • Passenger transport with cabin vessels on the Danube exists in two major forms:
    1) Short trips: trips of five, seven or eight days on the routes Passau-Vienna-Bratislava-Budapest-Passau and Vienna-Bratislava-Budapest, as well as trips from and to the Rhine and Main ports.
    2) Long trips: trips from Passau to Vienna and to the Danube delta with a duration of 14, 15 or 16 days.
  • Cruise vessel traffic on the short trips from Passau to Vienna and to Budapest is more intense than on the long trips, as the following table shows. Short trips go only to Budapest and are therefore not crossing the southern border of Hungary with Croatia and Serbia.
  •  

    TABLE 1: CRUISE VESSEL TRAFFIC ON THE DANUBE IN 2019, NUMBER OF PASSENGERS AND INCREASE COMPARED TO 2018 (IN %)

    Point of data collection Number of vessel transitsNumber of passengers
    German-Austrian border3,668 (+1.2%)512,500 (+0.94%)
    Slovakian-Hungarian border5,141 (+30.0%)720,800 (+31.2%)
    Hungarian-Croatian-Serbian border1,017 (+34.9%)135,040 (+30.3%)

    Source: Danube Commission Market Observation. Points of data collection: Jochenstein (border DE/AUT), Gabčikovo (border SK/HU), Mohács (border HU/CRO/RS)
     

  • The increase of 30% and more on the Danube stretch between the Slovakian-Hungarian border and the southern Hungarian border with Serbia and Croatia is also a result of the drop in 2018, when passenger ships with a draught of more than 1.8 m already had to partially interrupt their journey in the area of the Upper Danube and transport passengers by bus from Vienna to Bratislava and Budapest (Source: Danube Commission Market observation).
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