Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

Change is in the air, and not just at the White House.

Over the past two months, new executives have been installed at several river cruise lines, signaling the opportunity for a fresh outlook and some possible changes to the way the river cruise business has been operating for years.

This new batch of leaders all happen to be women, and two of them hail from the ocean cruise industry (three if you count Edie Rodriguez, CEO of Crystal, which launched its own river cruise business this year). These new girl bosses stand to bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to river cruise lines, many of which have been operated by some of the same faces since the river cruise boom took off in the early 2000s.

"The stage is perfectly set to ignite future growth and innovation," stated Scott Nisbet, CEO of the Globus family of brands, which earlier this week promoted two of its own female executives, Pam Hoffee and Terri Burke, to lead its Avalon Waterways brand following the retirement of managing director Patrick Clark.

The announcement came on the heels of Scenic naming cruise industry vet Joni Rein to serve as its vice president of U.S. sales and marketing, and tapping Christine Sustreanu to be managing director of global river cruise operations for Scenic and its sister line, Emerald Waterways.

That followed news this summer that Ellen Bettridge was taking over as CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, a line that was being run by Guy Young until then.

According to Bettridge, this changing of the guard is an opportunity to change the river cruising conversation all together.

"Whether I'm talking to a consumer or a well-traveled person, they all lump us together in a bucket, from a Viking to an Ama to a Uniworld. And I just think there's a great opportunity to distinguish us," Bettridge said, explaining that she plans to use her new post to redefine what Uniworld is and what it stands for in the luxury space.

Indeed, according to Crystal CEO Rodriguez, river cruising has been ripe for reinvention.

"We are disrupting the whole experience," said Rodriguez about Crystal's entrance into the market. "We saw that there were holes... there were a myriad of things that hadn't been done," she added, citing things such as open-seating dining and more adventurous on-shore outings as opportunities Crystal seized on to create a unique river cruise product.

The fact that all these new faces are being brought into the river cruise industry right at the same moment perhaps signals a need for some change. This past year has been a tough one for the river cruise market, and with challenge comes the need for innovation. Now it's time to see what they come up with.

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