With the possibility of as many as five new river vessels in 2019, as well as this year’s introduction of AmaKristina and two new vessels next year, AmaWaterways is fast expanding.
Travel Agent asked Rudi Schreiner, president and co-owner, and Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner, about capacity on European rivers, new ports for docking, and the search for new destinations to satisfy clients.
New Vessels, New Experiences
New this year is AmaKristina, which will sail on the Rhine. Karst herself will christen the ship later this week in Lahnstein, Germany. In 2018, a sister vessel, AmaLea, will debut on the Danube.
Then in 2019, the line will launch two more new ships. “One will be on the Danube, the second one we don’t know” yet where it will be positioned, says Schreiner.
But it’s not just Europe where the line is expanding. The line also plans a ship on India’s Ganges River, according to Karst and Schreiner.
The line also will have a new ship on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River in early 2019, and will being another vessel to Portugal's Duoro River, “so it could be up to five ships in 2019,” emphasizes Schreiner.
Potential for the Future
Originally, AmaKristina was targeted at the Elbe River, but “two years ago, when we started to develop everything, there was the drought and all the ship’s were stuck for a very long time,” Karst noted. The line subsequently opted to send the ship to the Rhine.
In doing so, the line scrapped plans for AmaKristina to be only two decks with a shallower draft, as the Elbe River has different operational requirements than the Rhine. Now, that new vessel is bigger.
But those original plans for a smaller vessel still have potential, she says, particularly as the line conceptualizes a ship to sail on the Ganges, as that river also requires a shallower draft and other operational adjustments.
”We believe there’s possibly a good future in India on the Ganges,” Schreiner stresses. He and Karst discussed the potential of an India river vessel and many other topics with Ruthanne Terrero, vice president content / editorial director, Questex Travel Group, for a cover story in our sister publication, Luxury Travel Advisor.
In India, Schreiner believes that eventually the government will need to start helping the lines and doing dredging, “but I think it will come."
To understand the potential and the experience, he and Karst sailed on the Ganges via a basic river line product. While it wasn’t a five-star product, the food was wonderful and both acknowledged they greatly enjoyed the trip - the experience along the river.
He discovered that “the local people are very much interested in us. It was nice to mingle. It was a very unique experience.”
What about rivers elsewhere? Certainly, the world's political climate has changed the draw for certain rivers, but that always has the potential to change in the future, they believe. “The Nile will come back, probably Russia will come back,” Schreiner tells Travel Agent.
Elsewhere, “one area I still see with a potential future [use by river boats] is the lower Yangtze River in China, from Shanghai up,” he says, acknowledging that the issue right now is pollution.
But riverfront areas are being developed and, once they clean up the pollution, Schreiner believes that “five or 10 years from now, there’s a good future there."
Elsewhere, while Karst had the Amazon on her bucket list for a long time, when she and Schreiner sailed there a few years back on an upscale line. But the scenery wasn't quite what she'd envisioned: “There was a lot of green that you would see way in the distance, but nothing that you would compare with what you would see in Africa or Asia where we are" on the Mekong or Zambezi rivers.
The expectation and reality may be different for some people, notes Schreiner. “People expect to see animals in the Amazon,” he says, yet acknowledges he met one guide who’d lived there for 15 years and had never seen a jaguar. The animals are clearly there, he knows, but simply are elusive.
So for now, there are no immediate Amazon plans.
More Capacity in Europe
With the entry of new river products in Europe, such as Emerald Waterways a few years back and the recent entry of Crystal River Cruises, plus the fact that all major river cruise lines are adding European capacity, Travel Agent asked about the potential for crowding.
It’s not just lines serving the North American market, but also those sourcing European clients that are sailing European rivers between May and October. How much is too much? Is there space for expansion given the expected growth?
Karst addressed this in a recent Cruise360 session during “six-minute hot seat” interviews of small ship and river operators, which Travel Agent covered. Here's some additional insight, though.
While all lines serving Europe tend to use the same ports, those are usually the ones consumers most want to see.
“The challenge is always to look for new ports as there are plenty of ports around and they are available,” says Karst, but stresses that the line must really market the ports and then make sure the clients also accept these ports as somewhere they want to go.
One success story on that front has been Vilshofen, Germany, where AmaWaterways has developed an excellent relationship with the community, and even christened its AmaCerto there a few years ago.
“It was a lot of work to convince the clients [to go there],” relates Karst. “Nobody knew this port and today…people love this beautiful Bavarian town.”
Yes, she says they still see Passau and they still see others that are more well-known, but when the line is in Vilshofen, “we are in the port by ourselves most of the time and the port of Vilshoften is so committed to us…and they do everything for us, and the client has a much better experience.”
Plenty of ports offer potential for the lines to spread out. Schreiner emphasizes that in Austria between the German and Slovakian border, the lines all dock in about five places including Vienna, Durnstein, Melk (shown in the photo above), and so on. But he also says that in total “there are 38 ports” in the area.
“So now we are starting to use Weissenkirchen, which is close to Durnstein,” he says, “and we are going to Grein,” which Karst said has a beautiful castle and old theater.
On the Rhine, AmaWaterways now has its own dock in Lahnstein, Germany, across from Koblenz on the other side of the Rhine toward Rudesheim.
Extending the Season
One way to expand guest totals is to broaden the European season. AmaWaterways is among the lines that have greatly expanded the European river cruise season.
Karst points out that many clients appreciate sailing in the off-season. AmaWaterways has Tulip Time, Easter Markets, wine cruises and Christmas Markets cruises. “We really have put the low-season departures on the map," she says.
She stresses that these seasons can be extremely beautiful scenery-wise, some voyages are themed and it's usually a good value proposition for the client. This year, “we’ve had a spectacular late March,” she told us.
One perk to emphasize to any potential clients? It’s nice to be alone in port with the locals and not have to stand in lines, Karst says: “There are so many advantages that the low season offers, and there is no problem with the docking facilities.”
A Constant Look
In the industry, as capacity grows, “we are all looking for new ports,” says Schreiner. He also points out that simultaneously, “some cities are realizing they are missing out on tourism.”
But as cities and towns begin to see the economic benefit, they’re responding. “The whole port of Vienna was rebuilt and they spent a ton of money on it,” he emphasizes. German cities too are now encouraging his line and building new docking places.
When Karst and Schreiner are in Europe or any other place across the globe, they often stay a couple of extra days, drive around and check out the ports and destination experiences.
It's a hands-on approach to itinerary development. They spend a lot of time talking with the locals, and as Karst says, “and we see what’s next.”