While European river cruising has certainly had its fair share of public relations challenges this year, marketing the Amazon River in 2016 has been no cakewalk either.
First there was the outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which took the media by storm in late 2015 and early 2016, and then The New York Times last month published an extensive expo about the issue of pirates along the Brazilian Amazon, resurfacing another image challenge the region faces.
And yet, despite it all, bookings for river cruises along the Amazon remain strong, according to the majority of operators with inventory there.
"Overall, we did receive a lot of questions regarding cruise safety and Zika, but it did not affect our bookings or interest in the Amazon as a travel destination," said Pats Illich, who oversees marketing for the Miami-based Rainforest Cruises, a company that sells river cruises on both the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon.
Tara Ellison, director of operations for International Expeditions, which has been operating on the Peruvian Amazon for some 40 years, said the company saw an uptick last month for its Amazon itineraries that corresponded with its Cyber Week promotion, and that prior to that it didn't appear that clients were overly concerned about Zika (as they are mostly not of childbearing age, noted Ellison) or about crime and safety.
"The Peruvian Amazon, especially the area where we travel near Iquitos, is incredibly welcoming to travelers," said Ellison, who was preparing for her 12th trip to the Peruvian Amazon this month. "After pirate incidents farther afield and closer to home, Peruvian authorities have made security a top priority."
Francesco Galli Zugaro, founder and CEO of Aqua Expeditions, said his company has seen a spike in bookings in the past two months, a phenomenon he attributed to the World Health Organization having declared last month that Zika is no longer a global health "emergency" and because the Peruvian Ministry of Health ended its Zika health emergency in October. (Notably, the WHO stated that Zika remains a "significant public health challenge".)
Delfin Amazon Cruises also said that it has not seen a drop in bookings and that consumer satisfaction for its Peruvian Amazon cruises remains high.
Delfin did get some calls of concern from travelers as a result of the recent Times article about pirates, "however, it is important to note that the article only covers the area of Manaus in Brazil, an area within Brazilian territory, not in Peru, and thousands of miles away from where Delfin Amazon Cruises operates."
In some ways, it's not too surprising that Amazon river cruise bookings remain strong despite any perceived health or safety threats. Amazon river cruisers are a hardy bunch. The world's largest jungle on its own evokes a level of exoticism and adventure that inevitably invites a more craggy traveler.
And it's not as though Amazon operators have been resting on their laurels. Many have come out and proactively communicated with guests about any additional safety and security measures they have implemented on their vessels in light of concerns about piracy both on the Peruvian as well as the Brazilian stretch of the river, ranging from high-tech security systems to additional manpower onboard.
And when it comes to health, Amazon operators had been in the habit of advising guests to take any necessary or recommended health precautions and vaccines long before Zika became an issue.
Ultimately, they benefit not just from the built-in resolve of Amazon river cruisers, but also from the allure of the destination itself, the rich flora and fauna for which it is known and the unique communities that reside along the river's banks. For anyone who has been on an Amazon river cruise, it's not uncommon for the experience to quickly fall into the "trip of a lifetime" category. And for many, that means no amount of pirates or mosquitos are going to stop them from being able to cross the experience off their wish list.