In terms of cruising, the world’s rivers are all at different stages of maturation. Whereas the Nile River is an old-timer, with a river cruising tradition that dates back decades, Europe’s inland waterways are the sage adults of the river cruising industry, having benefited from years of unprecedented growth, investment and development.
And then there are the industry’s newer entrants, destinations like Southeast Asia’s Mekong River and Peru’s Amazon, where product and infrastructure have been gaining strength in recent years.
There are also rivers like the Mississippi that are experiencing a recent rebirth.
And of course, the river cruise industry is always looking for the next breed of rivers, destinations like Myanmar’s Irrawaddy and India’s Ganges that are just now coming onto the scene.
Regardless of where the river stands in the maturation process, there are advantages and disadvantages at each stage of development. Where Europe benefits from years of tweaking and perfecting the product, it also now faces the challenge of crowding and increased competition.
In emerging markets, the competition is less and the opportunities great, but so too are the frustrations of trying to building vessels that meet European standards in countries still rife with bureaucratic and economic problems.
A company like Breckenridge, Colo.-based Haimark is looking for opportunities in the emerging river cruise markets, hoping to capitalize on a river cruise industry that appears to be looking past the European boom.
Companies like Viking River Cruises, on the other hand, continue to invest heavily in the firmly established European market, where Viking clearly believes there is room for further growth as it prepares to launch another 14 ships there in 2014.
Are there some prenatal rivers on the horizon? Certainly. But river cruise lines are keeping pretty tight-lipped about them if there are.