The Voice of the Cruise Industry

How to sell exotic river cruises

Sunrise - Angkor Wat - Cambodia

Far-flung rivers offer a world of adventure for passengers in search of something different.

Think of river cruising and Europe probably springs to mind, in particular the Rhine and the Danube. However, when clients have cruised the traditional routes and are looking for something different, there are plenty of exciting waterways that agents can suggest for those who are new to exotic river cruising.

Itineraries on Russia’s Volga and China’s Yangtze, taking in fascinating cities such as Moscow, St Petersburg, Shanghai and Beijing and awe-inspiring sights such as the Red Square and the Great Wall, were among the first exotic river cruises, and these destinations are now well established. They paved the way for more off-the-beaten-track itineraries, which are increasing in number year on year and appeal to adventurous travellers looking for an experience that’s very different from Europe.

These include the Mekong – taking in Cambodia and Vietnam, the Irrawaddy in Myanmar – the country formerly known as Burma – the tropical Amazon and, more recently, Vietnam’s Red River and India’s Ganges. Passengers can explore remote regions, some only just opening up to tourism, and return each day to the comfort of their river vessel.

Pandaw, founded in 1995 by Burma historian Paul Strachan, was the pioneer of boutique river expeditions throughout Southeast Asia, building a fleet of 16 shallow-draft ships to sail on isolated and often hard- to-navigate rivers. Today Pandaw travels further along the Chindwin, a lesser-known tributary of the Irrawaddy, than any other line, and recently introduced an itinerary on the Upper Mekong through Laos and Thailand to China.

RV Angkor - Pandaw

Andy Harmer, CLIA SVP membership & director UK & Ireland, explained: “The trend for exotic, far-flung holidays is continuing to grow rapidly and river cruising is seeing the impact of this. A river cruise is a fantastic way to explore more unusual destinations, with cruise lines offering some incredible itineraries and shoreside excursions to remote rivers in Burma, China and India that are only accessible by boat. Not to mention the incredible Amazon.”

To meet the growing demand for exotic river expeditions, lines are adding additional ships and itineraries, and the 18 new river ships on order for this year will include several destined for non-European destinations. Asia, in particular, is booming, with CLIA reporting combined river and ocean deployment up by 9%.
Last month the brand new all-suite Mekong Navigator started sailing on Uniworld’s 2017 Timeless Wonders of Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong itinerary. The 68-passenger, colonial-style vessel includes a spa.

In August CroisiEurope debuts the 60-passenger Indochine II, its third ship on the Mekong, and in December launches African Dream, the first of two vessels to sail on the Chobe and Zambezi rivers. The itinerary for the eight-suite African Dream, with a rooftop patio and pool, combines a four-night stay in a lodge with a four-night cruise and takes in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.

Gabrielle Alam, CroisiEurope’s head of UK sales, said: “As our guests become increasingly more adventurous, it’s important that we provide them with itineraries that will excite and inspire them. Our Mekong and African itineraries combine adventure with the great outdoors and immersive cultural experiences.”

G Adventures expanded its river cruise programme in 2016, adding sailings on the Ganges and Mekong. Managing director Brian Young explained: “We were already running a trip on the Amazon, so we knew this is the type of trip that would appeal to small group travellers. We keep our boat sizes small, under 30 people, so everyone has the chance to get to know one another, and the boats can get into smaller villages giving travellers the opportunity to experience real life and communities.”

Additionally, Saga is chartering the 48-passenger Mekong Pandaw on its new 14-night Voyage on the Mekong itinerary, visiting Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument, and the poignant Killing Fields.

Leading in at £3,049, the fare includes flights and Saga’s door-to-door pick-up service.

Sanctuary Retreats recently relaunched the new- look 124-passenger Yangzi Explorer, featuring suites decorated in classic Chinese style. Luxury features include a spa, 24-hour room service and 1:1 crew/passenger ratio.

Meanwhile Aqua Expeditions has announced a new collaboration with famed conservationist Jean- Michel Cousteau. On five seven-night departures on the Amazon and Mekong in 2017 and 2018, guests on the 32-passenger Aria Amazon and 40-passenger Aria Mekong will explore the regions alongside Cousteau, as well as enjoying talks and screenings of his films.


1 Exotic river cruises provide the chance to explore many remote destinations that are inaccessible on a land tour and impossible to reach independently.2

2 Ships are small, typically holding less than 100 passengers and some as few as 10, providing a real sense of adventure3

3 Experiences are authentic and often impromptu – a walk through a village might result in an invitation to a Buddhist ceremony or other local event.

4 Places visited might have basic amenities, but the ships offer plenty of home comforts, quality food and attentive service.

5 Manage clients’ expectations by finding out what they want – for example, recommend China and Russia for culture vultures and countries such as Myanmar for those who want to see everyday life in small towns.


CROISIEUROPE offers its new eight-night Africa itinerary, departing December 6, 2017, from £3,713pp cruise only, including full board with drinks on the cruise, excursions and domestic flights. 020 8328 1281

PANDAW offers a 10-night Halong Bay and Red River cruise in Vietnam from £2,140pp cruise only, including full board with local drinks, excursions, trips and Hanoi transfers. Flights are also bookable through Pandaw. 0208 326 5620

G ADVENTURES eight-night Ganges River Experience itinerary from Kolkata is priced from £1,014pp cruise only, with full-board accommodation, excluding drinks, and including excursions and transfers. 0344 272 2060


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