News in the last week that the FCO had lifted its advisory on river cruising was a very welcome U-turn, and a much needed confidence boost for our sector.
The ban placed on river cruising was the kind of decision we have unfortunately come to expect from a government lacking in understanding of the nuances and issues facing our industry during this global pandemic.
The fact that you could stay in large resorts or travel multi-centre but you couldn’t sail down a river on a floating boutique hotel, with all the safety protocols and controls that we have put in place, was nonsensical and damaging.
In fairness, thanks to the efforts and collaboration of Clia, Abta and the collective river cruise brands, the climbdown was swift and common sense has prevailed - and it’s an important milestone on the road to recovery.
River cruise ships are small - Uniworld’s have an average capacity of 130 guests - travelling in close proximity to the shore, with easy access to local healthcare providers at all times.
There is plenty of outdoor space on deck - enough for every guest to easily enjoy their own space - and there are multiple dining venues onboard where we can make advance reservations and guests can eat at their own tables, facilitating physical distancing with comfort and ease.
Similarly, river itineraries offer a huge range outdoor activities such as bike rides, hikes and walking tours to uncrowded villages, vineyards and gardens en route. When in bigger cities we offer exclusive and private experiences such as an after hours visit to St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, just for our group.
We already operated small group tours on shore, so we haven’t needed to significantly change our offering. And of course we have all worked hard to put incredibly robust, enhanced and innovative health and safety protocols in place every step of the way for the wellbeing and reassurance of both guests and staff.
I’m writing this as news filters in of another travel company casualty in the wake of this devastating pandemic - Cruise & Maritime Voyages - and I say wholeheartedly that I wish for our colleagues in ocean cruising to be back in business as soon as possible.
But for now, I encourage agents to make the most of this opportunity to sell river cruise. We’re already seeing a huge flurry of interest and bookings in the last week since the advisory changed.
Many are river cruise enthusiasts that were just waiting for the green light to book - and they are there in droves since the FCO update. Many of our partners are seeing an opportunity to sell us to typical ocean cruisers and luxury travellers who will consider river as an alternative while ocean remains uncertain.
Uniworld ships will be back on the water soon, and in the meantime, 2021 is looking very promising. So much so, in fact, that given rebooks and future travel credits from earlier this season, some sharp pricing and the built-up anticipation of sailing on one our new Super Ships, capacity in some areas is already looking tight.
River cruising is back, the demand is there, the reassurances are in place and the experiences are fantastic. Uniworld and a large range of Clia river cruise operators are ready to deliver amazing experiences to your clients.