River cruises during the coronavirus pandemic: the sector anticipates lasting changes in the market
The travel industry has suffered for more than a year under the coronavirus crisis. It is hitting river cruise operators particularly hard, who anticipate lasting changes in the market as a result of the lockdown and the changes in travel behaviour. This is the conclusion drawn by a sector survey conducted by the CENTOURIS market research institute at the University of Passau in March 2021.
According to experts, the shipping companies and tour operators are particularly threatened by the crisis. The continuous upwards trend in the number of new ships built in the past few years is undoubtedly being put on hold by coronavirus, and possibly even reversed. The numerous tour guides are also particularly seriously affected by the cuts and are currently being forced to look around for alternative sources of income. The question remains of whether they will return to work as independent guides “after coronavirus” or turn their back on this industry entirely. “It would not be possible to fill a gap quickly. The high quality of the tours is based on the guides’ many years of experience and their extensive training,” says Brigitte Franz, the project manager at CENTOURIS. In spite of everything, the crisis is also an opportunity for so-called secret tips: the respondents assume that the guests will increasingly ask specifically for excursions away from the tourist highlights.
Huge losses of revenue in 2020
“The mood within the sector is noticeably tense; the stakeholders feel insecure and are understandably annoyed by the current situation. Nevertheless, they are still confident and are keeping calm. All of which are important prerequisites for coming out of the crisis stronger,” says Brigitte Franz. However, the losses of revenue in 2020 were huge: on average, the shipside operations recorded a drop of 88 % in comparison to the previous year; for landside operations, this was even 92 %. Shipside, a lot is being done to keep things up and running as much as possible. Around two thirds of providers changed their routes at the start of the pandemic and have focussed primarily on trips without border crossings. This means that they can at least avoid having to cope with the different regulations of the individual states.
Recovery of the sector not expected before 2022
The experts agree that the German-speaking markets on the Danube will be first to return. Distant markets such as Australia and North America will respond more hesitantly. The source markets of Asia, France and the rest of Europe are difficult to assess. The business projections for the 2022 season are mainly positive: 70 % of respondents even anticipate an increase in bookings, but a third also expect cancellations at the same time. The failure of business partners is assessed as a particular threat to their own business.
According to the assessment of the experts, things will really recover in the 2023 season: price increases are anticipated across all markets, especially for Australia and North America and for the United Kingdom and Ireland. These price increases are predicted in view of the probable continuation of restricted capacities on (international) flights, on the one hand, and the increase in demand for river cruises that is expected for 2023, on the other hand.
The sector is facing fundamental, permanent changes
General hygiene regulations on board and on land, combined with a vaccination or test certificate, aim to make river cruises safe for the long term. Furthermore, fundamental changes on land are also necessary to guarantee the safety of the guests, the staff and the locals: smaller groups for excursions, a stronger focus on secret tips, a berthing management system that is perfectly coordinated between everyone involved and a sophisticated visitor guidance management system at tourist hotspots. “In the future, communication between shipside and landside operations will become even more important to enable all of these regulations to be implemented in practice. Structures must urgently be created, in order to be able to cope with the increasing complexity and integrate the new requirements into the respective processes as quickly as possible,” says Brigitte Franz. The respondents consider measures such as shorter berthing times, fewer passengers per ship and seasonal breaks due to emerging infections to be more temporary in nature.
The mood survey was conducted within the river cruise sector by CENTOURIS in collaboration with ARGE Donau Österreich, Professor Gerhard Skoff (stage4solutions & dtc) and River Cruise Europe. The survey took place in March 2021, shortly before the start of the actual river cruise season. As well as shipping companies, tour operators and providers of infrastructure services, a number of representatives of landside operations, for example from the areas of guided tours, the wholesale trade and landing operations, and of public tourism took part in the survey. The focus of the study is on the shipping route of the Danube, including the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal.
If you have any queries relating to this press release, please contact the Section for Media Relations at the University of Passau, Tel. 0851 509-1439.
If you have any specific queries relating to the study, please contact the project manager at CENTOURIS, Brigitte Franz, firstname.lastname@example.org.