Uniworld Boutique River Cruises says charter sales have increased 225% in 2019, its best year for full charters in the company's history.
And other lines say they too are seeing a rising interest in charters, particularly from corporate and incentive travel planners.
While charters have been a staple of some river cruise line business, Uniworld has only in the last few years become more aggressive and focused on courting the group business.
"We had requests before [for charters] but there wasn't a strategy," said Wesley Bosnic, who heads the team Uniworld assembled three years ago to focus soley on charter and incentive sales. "Now we go out and actively pursue groups and charters."
The team, he said, works with full charters and smaller groups that book part or all of their ships to customize everything from menus to excursions. Uniworld also has a website dedicated to groups.
Other lines are also seeing a rise in group business. At Avalon Waterways, which says it has always had a healthy charter business, "we're up 34% over the past two seasons, and looking at growth again for 2020," said Steve Born, chief marketing officer for Avalon's parent company, the Globus family of brands.
And at Amadeus River Cruises, whose core business revolves around charters, executive vice president Marcus Leskovar says it has added staff in its Chicago office to meet what he characterized as a "significant rise in inquiries and bookings for corporate charters and incentives," some that fall outside of the high-season months.
Some clients also charter multiple vessels at once, he said, "since some of the incentive groups are larger and can only be accommodated on tandem charters."
Bosnic says he expects strong continued growth from incentive travel, which he says has more traditionally gone to all-inclusive resorts. To keep business growing, Uniworld will have a booth in Las Vegas next month at the meetings travel show, IMEX America.
"We are reaching out in different avenues and at different events to present river cruise as an option directly to those people who plan the travel," he said. "A lot of these companies are looking for something new."