There were 1.79 million European river cruise passengers last year – 134,250 of whom were fly-cruisers from Australia and New Zealand, new figures reveal.

The numbers demonstrate the continuing popularity of Europe’s rivers among Australians and New Zealanders and are mirrored by findings from Cruise Lines International Association agents in the US who put some rivers’ growth as high as 53 per cent.

This year, however, is anyone’s guess as lines like Scenic have announced they won’t be sailing until July 1 – three months into the 2020 season.

But the predictions are that, with airline restrictions and fears of coronavirus persisting, the first to the rivers will be locals like Germans, who represent 28.3% of the market. Americans and Canadians, who dominate at 36.7 per cent, will be missing until they can be assured travel is safe from the coronavirus epidemic.

IG RiverCruise, which represents 70% of the operators and 240 ships active on Europe’s inland waterways, described the 2019 results as “another successful year’ with average cruises at seven nights and spending up.

The average daily spend was 3% higher, $302, and the average cruise price went up by 1.3%, to $2120, the average river cruise duration went down slightly, to 6.95 nights.

Most popular were ‘premium’ cruise lines which represent half the market.

If the German sailors are anything to go by, The Rhine and its feeders are most popular, with The Danube and tributaries next. The Seine, Rhone, Saone, Garonne, Loire were third.

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This year would have seen 19 new ships launched.

What is likely to happen in 2020?

With many lines deferring until June or July, it is highly likely that Europeans, who don’t need to fly, will be first aboard the ships.


The Rhine can be cruised without having to cross the border.

But without the return of the Americans, Canadians, British and Australians, river cruise lines will have a lean 2020 and there will be plenty of bargains for those who feel comfortable enough to travel.