Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Boomers spur rise of river cruising

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The baby-boomer crowd continues to be one of the fastest-growing demographic groups, and it's right up the river-cruise alley, according to Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways.

"CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association, the organization that represents most cruise lines -- large and small -- said in its annual report that 30 per cent of people who sail on ocean-going ships are looking to try a small ship, or river cruise ship," Clark said. "That bodes well for our business."

River cruising is booming and this is especially evident by the number of new ships. Viking leads the way with 10 new ships this year and most other river cruise lines are building one or two.

Does Viking's explosion trouble Clark?

"No, not really," he explained. "Every line is trying to differentiate itself from the other whether it's by inclusiveness, routes, service or uniqueness. In our case, it's the launching of two more of our 'all-suite ships' this year to go with the three currently in our fleet of 14.

"By making the rooms bigger and having windows that open seven feet, we are the only line with beds facing the window and the water."

As far as industry bookings go for 2013, Clark had this to say:

"All river cruise lines are doing well. As far as Avalon is concerned, we still have some holes to fill, but overall this will be our best year ever. On the Rhine, where we operate two ships, we are over 90-per-cent sold. On our 31 Burgundy/Provence cruises, we will operate at 98-per-cent capacity."

"But you have to keep in mind that if we were to build 30 ships at, say, an average of 180 passengers, that would only be an increase of just over 5,600 beds and that's the size of the largest ocean-going cruise ship."

This huge increase in new ships is also changing how river cruise lines do business. "We're meeting with (officials in) the towns and the cities that are on our itineraries and letting them know we will need new facilities in their areas to accommodate the growth," Clark said

The river-cruising boom has also affected schedules and departure offerings, he added.

"We used to strive for a weekend departure. That is out of the question now. You will find that our ships are leaving every day of the week for a couple of reasons -- to accommodate airline schedules and to spread out our ships along the river."

In a conversation with Clark last year, I'd asked him about the future and he mentioned Asia, so it was a good time to revisit that topic almost a month into 2013 to see if the Asia strategy was working.

"Better than we anticipated," he said. "We are seeing growth reach 70 per cent on both the Mekong and the Yangtze rivers."

Is this massive building boom going to slow?

"Not from our perspective, and I would think that applies to the other river lines as well," Clark said. "We have massive ocean-going cruise lines and only a small percentage of their customers have tried river cruising. Add that to the demographic boost and the future looks good for our industry."

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 2, 2013 D2

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