River operators see 2021 silver lining

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The view of the Budapest's Szechenyi Chain Bridge from a Panorama Suite on the Avalon Envision.
The view of the Budapest's Szechenyi Chain Bridge from a Panorama Suite on the Avalon Envision.

As the Covid-19 global travel shutdown drags on, river cruise operators -- like much of the travel industry -- are reporting growing demand for 2021.

Both Avalon Waterways and Crystal River Cruises said they are seeing increases of more than 30% for 2021 bookings when compared with demand for 2020 at this time last year.

"As travelers fulfill their 'safer at home' duties, many have spent time reflecting on their memorable, past travel experiences and are beginning to anticipate life after the pandemic," said Pamela Hoffee, managing director of Avalon Waterways. "Travel is very much a part of their plans, and as we all know, anticipating a vacation is one of life's great pleasures."

Walter Littlejohn, managing director of Crystal River Cruises, said the 2021 demand "speaks to the confidence that cruisers have in the quality of the Crystal experience and product as well as the number of options and incentives that make planning ahead extremely enticing, like Book Now Savings and the new Crystal Assured Savings program."

Other lines have also said 2021 demand is up. Although it's unclear how much are new bookings versus rebookings of canceled or postponed 2020 trips.

"Our overall bookings for 2021 are coming along well, and we are ahead compared with the same time last year," said Marcus Leskovar, executive vice president of Amadeus River Cruises

"However, the vast majority of bookings are derived from canceled cruises in 2020 and resulting rebookings for next year," Leskovar said. "The actual new inquiries and bookings for 2021 are still comparatively low, and we are waiting for the right time and consumer mindset to come out with attractive offers for this and next year's cruise itineraries."

There are also a few reminders on the horizon of just how unpredictable the future might be.

"We have also received some inquiries to cancel charters for next year since news of the pandemic eventually coming back in the fall and winter months has a few clients unsettled," Leskovar said. "However, we believe that a concern for next year is not warranted."

Domestically, American Cruise Lines and the American Queen Steamboat Co. have said they are seeing a rise in bookings, although both also have more boats to sell.

Still, both said anecdotal evidence points to solid growth as Americans look for vacations closer to home.

As for 2020, Hoffee said many travelers continue to take a "wait and see" approach for 2020 but that bookings for late summer, fall and especially Christmas sailings remain strong.

"Hope is high with our travelers that they can still go," she said. "Of course, they need to know that Avalon, along with all of the other travel companies, are ready for them, having made adjustments to ensure their health and safety.

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