Floating before our eyes: the river cruise market is close to recovery

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The new season of river cruises traditionally starts at the end of April. The market is recovering from the crisis: this type of vacation is again in high demand, the rate of booking is higher than in 2019. Tour operators are trying to catch this wave, but some external factors continue to work against them. The reasons for the good workload and current trends – in the material of “Izvestia”.

Speed ​​up the move

The river cruise market on the eve of summer 2021 is generally on a positive wave. The state of this segment in terms of sales volume is comparable to the pre-crisis one, experts say. However, the same cannot be said about the financial component, given the losses of the previous season.

Describing the situation on the market, Andrey Mikhailovsky, General Director of the Infoflot cruise center, gives the following example: “In total, in mid-April, demand exceeds the data of 2019 by 10-20%, and the daily dynamics is 35-40% higher than the values ​​of the pre-crisis 2019“.

A similar picture is drawn in the company “Vodokhod”. The company’s clients are booking cruises more actively than in 2019. “We are seeing an increase in the number of bookings, the interest of Russians in river cruises has grown significantly. The positive dynamics is due to several factors: this is the introduction of cashback, and the ban on flights to Turkey, after which tourists who were not previously interested in cruises began to contact us. We are registering interest in our new luxury products – cruises on the Azov and Black seas, the Yenisei expedition. The number of bookings this year has grown by more than 25%, ”said Ilya Sukhovolsky, Deputy General Director for Development at Vodokhod.


Photo: TASS / Alexander Demyanchuk

At the moment, Mosturflot company accounts for 90% of all sales for tours with cashback. Sales for July-August have not yet picked up. Within the framework of cashback, 40% of bookings are in the luxury segment.

The growth in demand for high-level motor ships is one of the main trends this year. Both return tourists and newcomers choose luxury ships, which have increased significantly.

The situation is slightly worse for those who were focused on foreign tourists… According to Svetlana Goncharova, Deputy General Director for Tourism at Mosturflot, twice as many motor ships will be involved in the new cruise season as in 2020, including ships that previously worked only for guests of the country. But at the same time, in total, only about 65% of the 2019 fleet will be used (according to large companies). Several companies that specialized in foreigners have not yet resumed their work: their four-deck motor ships are still laid up.

New wave

Due to the restrictions associated with the pandemic, many tourists have tried a cruise vacation in Russia for the first time. This year they are returning consciously. There are also new clients. The return on the cruise segment is 80–85%.


Photo: TASS / Vladimir Smirnov

Newbie tourists tend to take short weekend itineraries. According to statistics, the traditionally St. Petersburg direction is among the leaders; weekly cruises along the Oka and Volga are also in demand.

More exotic routes also attract passengers. There is a demand for traveling along Siberian rivers. In 2021, tourists are expected to cruise along the Irtysh and Ob rivers on the motor ship Severnaya Skazka. As for Lake Baikal, it is now also a popular destination – small ships designed for 15–20 cabins sail there, says Andrei Mikhailovsky.

The company “Vodokhod” is observing a high load of cruises to the Solovetsky Islands on the four-deck motor ship “Alexander Pushkin”. This is the only way to get to Solovki in comfortable conditions and without transfers. “There are only a few places left for this year, more than 90% of the tours were bought back in November last year, this direction is being actively booked for 2022,” says Sukhovolsky.


Photo: RIA Novosti / Nina Zotina

Vodokhod also records the positive dynamics of reservations for expeditionary cruises along the Yenisei. 50% of flights for 2021 have already been purchased… The busiest flights are from late June to mid-August – during the high season. Experts say that the Yenisei expedition on a motor ship is a rare opportunity to visit the most picturesque and picturesque places of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, while having the most comfortable accommodation conditions.

Affordable comfort

Improving the level of product quality is an important factor in stimulating sales. Most of the ships have undergone radical modernization. Tourists now have access to different formats of recreation (from budget to luxury), understandable and in demand by people who are used to vacationing abroad. Russian proposals are in no way inferior to foreign ones, assures Svetlana Goncharova. She says that the company’s assortment has an answer to the Norwegian fjords – a cruise on the luxury motor ship “Alexander Green” along the Ladoga skerries. Tourists are also showing interest in unusual excursions by helicopters and boats. You can, for example, fly by helicopter from Nizhny Novgorod to Diveyevo or fly over the skerries.


Photo: RIA Novosti / Nina Zotina

The general level of the product has grown, experts say, but this has not negatively affected prices. Contrary to the well-established stereotype, cruises have not become prohibitively expensive entertainment. The rise in prices compared to last year amounted to 5-10%. One cruise day (a cabin with amenities, three meals a day, 1-2 excursions) costs an average of 5.5-6 thousand rubles per person, says Mikhailovsky.

The sea is calling

Experts also call sea cruises in Russian waters promising. Up to 99% of cruises sold are on river routes, but the demand for sea travel is also growing. Until recently, there was only one ship sailing on the sea – “Prince Vladimir”. In the coming season, tourists will be able to go on a sea cruise along the Black and Azov Seas on the luxury motor ship Mustai Karim. This first modern liner is rightfully considered a five-star hotel on the water: panoramic restaurants, bars, cabins, spa-zone, various entertaining and interesting excursion programs and, of course, relaxation on the beach.

There is a thaw in the international cruise market, which the pandemic has dealt a much more serious blow. “The pandemic, which has frozen the demand for sea cruises abroad, has certainly spurred the demand for cruises on Russian rivers. However, now in the wake of news about the opening of sales of cruises from Limassol (Cyprus) to the Greek islands, from Athens and their availability for vaccinated Russian tourists, the situation has begun to change, “said Ilya Milititsky, general director of the tour operator” Breeze Line “.


Photo: RIA Novosti / Nina Zotina

The company receives a lot of calls, and reservations are active. Tourists missed sea travel abroad. It is important that tourists can use the vouchers they received in exchange for canceled cruises since March 2020, which are not applicable to river cruises, Milititsky explained.

It’s too early to rejoice

However, there is certainly no boom in international cruises this year. According to the most optimistic forecasts of Russian experts, this may happen in 2022.

It is not worth counting on a full recovery by the end of the current year in the field of river travel, experts say. “Even if all the ships are loaded, it is too early to talk about a return to pre-crisis volumes. Let me remind you that the volume of the fleet is less than in 2019. And, of course, the absence of foreign tourists makes itself felt. The internal flow does not cover the losses caused by the lack of inbound tourist traffic. It is important to note here that foreign tourists have a long navigation, they travel from early May to October, and Russians have a short one. But in any case, we look at the season with hope, ”says Svetlana Goncharova.