With the closure of numerous ports, multiple river cruise lines have temporarily halted sailings.
Viking Cruises has suspended river cruise operations until May 1, 2020. With the shutting down of the tourist industries in Vietnam and India, Southeast Asian line Pandaw River Expeditions was also forced to cancel many of its operations in both countries.
Additionally, Avalon Waterways has just announced the voluntarily suspension of operations across all destinations through to June 30, 2020.
“Avalon Waterways recognises that travellers are faced with a great deal of uncertainty right now, and are committed to helping them through this period by offering lots of options to reschedule their trip, adequate time to rebook and great customer service,” notes Karen Chua, Head of Scenic Travel, the local representative of Avalon Waterways in Singapore.
For travellers affected by the suspension, Avalon Waterways is offering a ‘Peace of Mind’ plan. This provides travellers booked to travel between now and 30 April 2020 the freedom to reschedule their cruise in 2020, 2021 or 2022, without incurring cancellation fees.
“The plan also offers travellers a credit of up to USD$200 per person when they reschedule, which is being well-received by customers,” observes Ms Chua.
Given the slow down across the entire travel industry, river cruise operators are bracing for challenging times ahead.
“Like all tourist businesses, and business that rely on tourist income, it will be a tough year,” said James Talbot, Customer Services Manager at Pandaw River Expeditions.
“Demand is currently low for travel in general so all river cruise destinations will be seeing a dip in sales.”
Nevertheless, both Mr Talbot and Ms Chua remain optimistic that the market will recover once the COVID-19 situation improves.
“We expect there is a lot of frustrated demand that will be unleashed when the virus finally blows over,” said Talbot. “At that time, we will be ready to welcome back our regulars and first timers to sail with us across Asia and India again.”
“We’ll continue to offer our customers the flexibility they need to have peace-of-mind when booking their next holiday, “ added Ms Chua.
Talbot and Chua are quick to point out how river cruising might be a viable alternative to ocean cruising as well.
“River cruising gives you much more flexibility and choice both during and around your cruise,” says Mr Talbot. “People want to experience the local culture and way of life and this is much easier achieved sailing through the heart of a country than turning up at an international port for one or two days.”
With regard to viral outbreaks, Ms Chua adds that smaller ship sizes mean less chance of infection. River cruise docking locations are in the centre of town, so passengers are less likely to be stuck at sea or port. Itineraries often have short cruising durations too, with more land stops.
Once things turn around, Scenic also hopes to grow river cruising by partnering with local Singaporean sub-agents, clubs & credit card companies, to further raise brand and product awareness in the market.
“Building and maintaining relationships with our partners, and supporting them in making sales, is essential to boost river cruising in future,” said Ms Chua.
Scenic and Evergreen have also extended their Asia suspension for an additional two weeks, till mid May.
The Scenic’s website says: “The situation in South East Asia has also escalated significantly in recent days, with several Governments restricting access to ports and points of disembarkation along the Mekong River.
“It is no longer possible for Scenic to continue cruise operations in this region and therefore, we have cancelled the remaining river cruises for this season up to mid-May and the same above offer applies.”