Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

InsightBeyond the river cruise markets that have seen some of the most development over the last decade, namely Europe and China, some major U.S. river cruise operators are now pushing into the more secondary markets of Russia and Southeast Asia.

Last month, Viking River Cruises announced that it would have a 15-day itinerary on the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia for the 2010-11 season. And earlier this year, Ama Waterways said it plans to introduce a second 124-passenger ship on the Mekong that will launch in summer 2011.

Ama began offering Mekong sailings in September 2009, when the 92-passenger La Marguerite was launched, and it will have partial ownership of both ships.

Rudi Schreiner, the president of Ama, is bullish about the Mekong's potential, having stated that the combination of major destinations such as Angkor Wat, Hanoi, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City as well as charming villages and scenery makes for a perfect river cruise experience.

Seeing that potential, as well, in August Viking partnered with Pandaw River Cruises, a Singapore-based company with head offices in Scotland, to charter the 66-passenger Tonle.

Angkor Wat in CambodiaWhile the focus remains on Europe, "our guests have requested that we expand to other destinations so they can experience even more of the world," Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen stated.

Meanwhile, the Russian river cruise market, which has been quiet in recent years, has suddenly started to heat up, as well.

Here again, Ama made a defining move by announcing in April that it will be leasing a newly renovated river cruise ship, the Amakatarina, from Russian company Vodohod, which will set sail next May 10.

Then in July, after being out of the Russian market for 2010, Uniworld River Cruises signed a five-year deal to charter the River Victoria on the Volga River, also starting next May.

In a departure from traditional charter agreements on river cruise ships that sail the Volga-Baltic Waterway, Ama and Uniworld are both taking a much more hands-on approach and will be overseeing the entire refurbishment and redesign of the ships they'll be using.

To finance the refurbishment, Ama is lending some capital to the Russian company Vodohod that owns the ship, which was built in the 1980s.

Similarly, the design team from Red Carnation Hotels, Uniworld's sister company, will work on refurbishment plans with Mosturflot, the Russian company that owns the ship. Uniworld is also aiding refurbishment funding by frontloading charter payments.

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