There are many rivers in this world. But the ones that lend themselves to river cruising are much fewer. It's no surprise that river cruise operators are always on the prowl for the next inland waterway to explore.
"I'm always looking for potential rivers," said Rudi Schreiner, president of Ama Waterways, adding that he has a spreadsheet of candidate rivers. "There are several rivers always on my mind."
Ama Waterways played a large role in the recent rush of interest in the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia when it partnered with the Hanoi, Vietnam-based ship-building company Indochina Sails to launch the 92-passenger La Marguerite in 2009.
"The companies that are experiencing the real success with selling [the Mekong] are the Vikings and the Uniworlds and the Amas of the world who have had past success [in Europe], and their customers are looking for something new," said Tom Markwell, vice president of sales and marketing at Pandaw River Cruises, one of the first companies to go to the Mekong. "Other than building another ship on the Danube, what were they going to offer their customers?"
Pandaw is also one of the few companies that offers river cruises in Burma and Borneo, as well.
Now, Ama Waterways is heading to Africa. For 2012, the company will charter the Zambezi Queen, a 28-passenger, all-suite river cruise ship that launched last year on the Chobe River in Botswana. Ama Waterways has created a new product line called Amavoyages that encompasses all its river cruise experiences outside of Europe: the Volga River cruises through Russia, the Mekong River and the new Africa Safaris and Wildlife Cruise program.
So, which river will be the next big thing? Only time will tell.
For news on tour operations, wholesalers and river cruising, follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.