The UK and Ireland river cruise market grew by 10.4 per cent in 2018, according to CLIA’s annual river cruise review.

It represents more good news for the sector, which hit two million ocean cruisers for the first time last year.

In total, 232,300 river cruises were taken by British and Irish holidaymakers last year – growth that CLIA’s UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer attributed to the “incredible experiences a river cruise has to offer”.

He added: “The market is certainly proving popular in the travel sector with passenger numbers continuing to grow year on year. This can be put down to the incredible experiences a river cruise has to offer, as guests can sail through the heart of a destination – as well as the plethora of fantastic itineraries and the high standard of the ships.

“One-third of all river ships have been built within the past 10 years, with 18 new vessels set to launch from now to 2020, meaning that guests can sail on ships that are contemporary, luxurious and have plenty to offer. This attracts the modern-day traveller, who seeks to explore the world in comfort and style.”

In terms of specific rivers, the Danube overtook the Rhine in popularity, and the Rhine and Danube now account for 58 per cent of passenger numbers, compared to 53 per cent in 2017.

In Southern Europe, the Douro experienced the highest growth with an increase of almost 15 per cent, while outside of Europe, Asia stood as the most popular river cruise destination with the Mekong holding top spot.

The average length of a river cruise in Europe also increased to eight nights and non-Europe cruises had an average length of 6.7 nights, a jump of 3.1 per cent from 2017.

North America and Africa destinations experienced the highest increase in bookings, up 50 per cent and 18 per cent respectively. Passengers on the Nile increased by more than 21 per cent, from 4,700 to 5,700 passengers.

“River cruise lines are focusing on shore excursion choices with activities that either keep guests active with biking, hiking or canoeing, or that offer enriching experiences, where guests can learn a new skill or improve an existing one,” Harmer added.

“As such, the interest in river cruises continues to grow and CLIA anticipates this popularity continuing to increase in years to come.”

CLIA travel agents can access the full CLIA 2018 cruise review on www.cruiseexperts.org.

CLIA’s annual river cruise conference will return to the city of Amsterdam for the 2019 edition.

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