A record number of 210,400 UK passengers embarked on a river cruise in 2017, with Portugal, Russia and India experiencing the most significant growth.

The unprecedented 21% increase in passenger numbers - up from 174,400 in 2016 - is revealed in the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) UK & Ireland’s annual River Cruise Review. 

European river cruises, which account for almost 90% of bookings, were the driving force behind the exceptional rise, explained Andy Harmer, senior vice-president membership and CLIA UK & Ireland director. He said the Rhine and Danube retained the top spot as the most popular rivers; virtually neck and neck with a 42.1% and 41.2% share of the market respectively. However, it was eastern and southern Europe which saw the most growth last year, predominantly on Portugal’s Douro - a rise of 85% - and Russian waterways which saw a 70% increase in the number of guests.

Further afield, the three rivers accounting for the bulk of UK passengers in 2017 were the Mekong, Nile and Irrawaddy, and the report showed that India experienced the highest percentage passenger rise with an increase of 27.5% of British travellers heading for the Ganges and Brahmaputra compared with 2016.

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A selection of Amsterdam cruises are available for 2019 dates including with Riviera Travel

A selection of Amsterdam cruises are available for 2019 dates including with Riviera Travel.

Cruising is one of the fastest growing sectors in the travel industry, with river cruising continuing to grow year on year. The majority of lines offer group discounts and fares generally include excursions and wine with meals, making it easy for GTOs to budget. It is also a stress-free way to travel as members only have to pack and unpack once and ships moor in the heart of towns and cities close to all the main attractions.

One-third of all river ships have been built within the past 10 years and more than a quarter in the past five, which means they are modern and offer plenty of comforts including pools, gyms and spas. A total of nine new vessels are being launched next year including AmaWaterway’s ground-breaking 196-passenger AmaMagna which will be almost double the width of other ships on the Danube. Other significant developments include small ship Asia specialist Pandaw - which offers whole ship charters for groups - positioning three ships in India for the first time. 

CLIA UK & Ireland is a member of CLIA, the world’s largest cruise industry trade association.