Market Insight

Annual report
Year 2017

Market Insight
FALL 2017

Market Insight
WINTER 2017-2018

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Passenger transport fleet



  • The EU has increased its fleet capacities tremendously over the last 11 years. In 2016, the fleet of the EU region numbered 335 active vessels which represent 39% of the worldwide river cruise fleet, compared to 24 % in 2005.
  • River cruise vessels active on the Rhine (including tributaries), Danube and Elbe represent 75% of active vessels in Europe. Vessels active on rivers in France account for 16 %, with a rising trend. Vessels on Portuguese rivers (Douro) have a share of almost 5%.
  • 75% of active vessels in Europe are navigating on the Rhine, Danube and Elbe



Number of river cruise vessels in Europe by region of operation (2010 – 2016)

Source : CCNR



  • From a technical point of view, these vessels are foreseen to only operate in these regions.



Distribution of River Cruise vessels per region worldwide

Source : Hader & Hader 2016



  • In two other important regions, the evolution is less positive : the Russian River Cruise fleet has a very high average age and is reduced from year to year. The Nile fleet in Egypt is stagnating, due to the negative impact of political developments on the number of tourists visiting Egypt.
  • The building of new cruise vessels in Europe continues in 2016, albeit at a slower tempo then in the years before.
  • In Europe, 20 new river cruise vessels were put into service in 2016, out of 31 worldwide – that represents a significant share of 70 %
  • The chart below shows the newly built vessels and their regional distribution of operation as intended by the ordering company. The Rhine (including tributaries) and the Danube still account for the largest proportion of the new vessels. In terms of occupancy, the share is the same with the largest number of beds for Central European waterways Rhine-Main-Danube (1,591 beds), Rhine (440 beds), followed by Danube (434 beds) and Douro (202 beds).



Newly built passenger cruise vessels in 2016 by region of operation

Source : Schiffahrt Hafen Bahn und Technik, 2_2017; Hader & Hader 2016



  • For the years 2017 and 2018, the number of new vessels entering the European market continues to decrease slowly: 17 new vessels are foreseen for 2017, and only 10 are scheduled for 2018. Overall, the wave of new vessels that had started in 2010, and reached its peak in 2014, is now coming to an end.



Newly built passenger cruise vessels in 2017 by region of operation

Source : Binnenschifffahrt – ZfB – 2017, Nr. 3; Hader & Hader 2016



  • A possible new wave could only be triggered by an increase of new vessel orders for the English- speaking market. It should be emphasised that travellers from Great Britain not only consult the offers of British tour operators but also those of the rapidly growing US market. Furthermore, British tour operators recently opened up new target groups by chartering high-quality newly built vessels.



New River Cruise vessels for the European market (2003-2018)*

Source : Hader & Hader 2016 * values for 2017 and 2018 : forecast based on order books



  • For the German market, as far as the capacity of the fleet is concerned, it remains almost constant. Higher charter rates result in less shipbuilding directly for the German market. The Dutch fleet, on the other hand, hardly grows, as new ships are often made available to foreign markets.
  • The year 2017 will be characterised by a regional diversification: for the first time, almost half of the new ships (47 %) will not be employed on the Rhine-Main-Danube system, but on the Douro, Rhône and Seine.
  • This diversification also takes places within the Rhine itself : Travel routes for river cruises were extended from the Rhine to its tributaries (for example the Main). From the viewpoint of the operators, this diversification makes economic sense, as concentrating on only one river can be risky. This applies especially to the new vessels.
  • Not only does the geographical scope change, but also the thematic spectrum is broadened, in order to reach a younger audience : more and more theme tours are offered, e.g. River cruises to the most beautiful Christmas markets along the Rhine or culinary cruises on the Rhône, where regional specialties can be discovered.
  • Besides, the operators have also noticed the growing environmental awareness among their target groups, hand in hand with an increasing interest and demand for so-called “green cruising”. Therefore, they have successfully introduced several greening technologies in their new vessels, like Dual-Fuel-engines, Diesel-electric engines and post-combustion filters. These new propulsion systems lead to a gradual green modernisation of the river cruise fleet. Apart from the benefits for the environment, these new technologies also improve the comfort of the passengers on board, in terms of a reduction of noise and local pollutant emissions.
  • In the wake of the overall goal of increasing its sustainability, certain operators are creating new concepts for expanding their offer for different waterway profiles. For example, on the river Elbe, one of the leading European companies (with a fleet of 45 ships) introduced a vessel with a single paddlewheel propulsion. This allows navigation in shallow waters and, thus, navigation becomes possible with only 5 to 10 centimetres of water under the hull and allows ongoing operation on the river Elbe despite frequent periods of low water conditions. Moreover, this system ejects less water, which results in a much more sustainable cleaner flow. (Source: Neopolia 12/2016)





Passenger transport demand



  • In 2016, a total of 1.36 million river cruise trips were taken on inland waterways in the EU, which corresponds to an increase of 2.7 % compared to the previous year. In 2015, however, an increase of 17 % had taken place within only one year.
  • Despite a sluggish start to the season, influenced by the attacks in Europe in Paris (November 2015) and Brussels (March 2016), the wave of cancellations and lack of bookings feared by the river cruise industry, in particular for the French regions, did not materialise. All in all, they were even able to post a slight increase at the end of the booking season.
  • Contributing 39 % of cruise passengers, the USA and Canada were again the most important source markets in 2016, almost the same as in 2015 (38%).
  • However, it can be assumed that their rate of growth was negatively affected particularly by the threat of terrorism and the official travel warning. It is undeniable that a change in security habits has taken place: a lot of American customers prefer so-called “home cruising”, avoiding flights overseas.
  • The German source market ranked in second place at 29 %. The German passenger volume had again grown by 2.8 % to more than 435,000 passengers.1
  • The number of British passengers in Europe rose from 131,400 in 2015 to 166,700 (Source: CLIA) in 2016. Therefore, it can be assumed that the shift in passenger split from German-speaking customers to English-speaking customers keeps on progressing.



Split of Passengers by nationality (%) - 2014

Source : IG River Cruise / German Travel Association (DRV)

Split of Passengers by nationality (%) - 2015

Source : IG River Cruise / German Travel Association (DRV)



  • For the German passengers, the Rhine (35.5 %) was once again the most popular destination, followed by the Danube (34.4 %). However, a slight shift in the market share from the Rhine and Danube to less travelled rivers could be observed. It was noticeable that this shift was at the expense of the Danube (-3.6 percentage points) and the Rhine (-2.7 percentage points)1.



Distribution of passengers from the German source market to travel destinations worldwide

Travel destinations20152016
Rhine & Tributaries38.2 %35.5 %
Danube & Tributaries38.0 %34.4 %
Seine, Rhône, Saône, Garonne, Loire8.6 %10.5 %
Elbe, Oder, Havel3.0 %4.3 %
Other European destinations2.8 %4.1 %
Other Non-European destinations9.4 %11.2 %

Source : IG River Cruise / German Travel Association (DRV)




  • Considering the evolution in global demand, the market for river cruises is independent of other shipping markets, as it is less exposed to fluctuations in industrial production. However, travel intensity is strongly influenced by the effects of temporary and regional influences such as weather conditions (i.e. icing in the winter season). Nevertheless, thanks to the use of modern cruise vessels and new technologies, for example propulsion with a single paddlewheel, it is possible to extend the service period considerably, so that the season break lasts only from January to March/April. There is only a very general connection between the demand for river cruising and global economic development. In principle, the dependencies linked to the purchasing power are usually influenced or even replaced by regional political events, intra-industry trends such as an expansion or constriction of the supply chain (i.e. cancellation of cruises due to closures) and marketing measures.
  • Furthermore, the Rhine, thanks to its navigable tributaries, offers several different travel itineraries, which makes it attractive for repeaters, tourists that travel repeatedly to the same destination.
  • Another positive aspect of the Rhine is its geographical proximity to important global airports such as Amsterdam, Basel, Frankfurt and Cologne. This geographical situation offers a considerable advantage for foreign passengers (especially from overseas) arriving by plane. Thus, distant source markets can also easily be operated.
  • From the point of view of navigation, the Rhine offers the best conditions for three-floor passenger vessels up to a length of 135 m, not least because the water level for cruise ships is rarely too low and locks can only be found on the Upper Rhine.
  • Another aspect to be taken into consideration, not only for the construction of new vessels, is the number and size of locks. Especially on the river Elbe and Moldau, newly constructed vessels can gain in length but cannot exceed a width of more than 10.0 meters in order to respect the constraints of navigation.
  • The Danube, together with the Rhine, is the most important European river for the cruise sector. On the Danube, there is a cluster of ports that play a significant role in river cruising. These main ports are Passau (Germany), Vienna (Austria), Bratislava (Slovakia), Budapest (Hungary) and Belgrade (Serbia). River cruises on the Danube can be split into two major types of journeys:
    • Short distance cruises from Passau to Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest, lasting 5 to 8 days. They represent the most common type of Danube river cruises in terms of number of passengers transported (565,000 passengers in 2016 compared to 534,000 in 2015 (+5.7 %).
    • ​​Long distance cruises from Passau to the Danube delta region lasting
      14 to 16 days. For these cruises, 87,000 passengers were counted in 2016, compared to 83,000 in 2015 (+ 4,7 %).
  • Concerning the nationality of the vessels, Switzerland has by far the highest share of all states. Together with Malta, France and the Netherlands, the Swiss flag accounted for 70 % of the total number of river cruise vessels that were active in the short distance trip segment between Passau, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest. In 2015, this share had been 74 %, and 72 % in 2014. River cruise vessels flying the German flag had a share of 15 % in 2016, compared to 17 % in 2015 and 16.5 % in 2014. Vessels flying the Bulgarian flag accounted for 7 % in 2016. Overall, this means that vessels with a nationality outside the Danube region account for the large majority of river cruise trips on the Danube.
  • The European river cruise industry continues to contribute significantly to the added value of inland shipping in 2016. It guarantees 13,971 jobs directly on the ships and a further 3,540 jobs within shipping companies operating on the land side. In addition, more than 11,000 jobs are linked to the river cruise industry, i.e. suppliers, ports, excursion agencies and other service providers on land.




1  Source : Deutscher Reiseverband DRV ; press release dated 09.03.2017 „Fluss-Kreuzfahrt in Europa behauptet sich“ (River cruise in Europe is asserting itself)


2  Source : Deutscher Reiseverband DRV ; press release dated 09.03.2017 „Fluss-Kreuzfahrt in Europa behauptet sich“ (River cruise in Europe is asserting itself)

Annual report
Year 2017

A project co-financed byEuropean Commission

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