Post-Pandemic ‘Travel Bubbles’ and Other Top Trends for 2023 Lift European Waterways to Record Sales
European Waterways is reporting record sales of its luxury hotel barge cruises as post-pandemic concerns continue to drive many of the mayor travel trends that speak to the company’s canal barging experience.
With some travelers still preferring to create a “travel bubble” composed of families and small groups, for example, the company says that its private charter bookings have increased more than 45 percent. Travelers are also seeking experiences that take them “off the beaten path”; they want to be more than observers, but also become immersed in the local culture, gastronomy, and history of the region. These are all integral parts of the European Waterways experience.
“We had a record year in 2022, with bookings 16 percent higher than our previous record, because our cruises tick all the boxes,” said Derek Banks, European Waterways’ managing director. “We offer exclusive ‘slow travel’ and ‘relaxed luxury’ experiences that are consistently among the most frequently cited industry trends.”
Launching a New Niche Market
Derek Banks and John Wood-Dow, who co-founded the company, launched European Waterways more than forty years ago with the purchase of their first barge, Anjodi. Built in 1929 originally to transport grain, the barge was meticulously transformed into a “boutique hotel on the water,” according to Banks. It was one of the first luxury hotel barge on the Canal du Midi.
Their venture helped ignite a new niche travel industry that proved instrumental in the revitalization of Europe’s intricate network of scenic canals and inland waterways as tourism destinations. As a tribute to their focus on providing “the ultimate slow travel experience,” hotel barge Anjodi still sails the waters today, setting the standards for all-inclusive, luxury travel along the canals and waterways of the French countryside.
During the many years helping to grow the canal cruising market, European Waterways has developed close relationships with many local businesses, vineyards, personalities, and restaurants along their routes. These have proven essential in creating highly curated experiences for their guests that have become a hallmark of European Waterways cruises.
For example, guests aboard La Bella Vita on Italy’s River Po can enjoy a private lunch with a Countess at her legendary villa. As part of cruising Rosa in Gascony, guests will find themselves at the 18th century Château de la Motte, where the resident Baroness will give them a private tour, then take tea with them in her apartment.
Cruising the Champagne region on Panache, guests will enjoy a private tour, wine tasting and gastronomic meal at the boutique Grand Cru winery of Frerejean Frères. The company’s Scottish Highlander and Spirit of Scotland in Scotland include a private tour of the Dalwhinnie whisky distillery, followed by a tasting of several of its famous single malts. Anjodi on the UNESCO listed Canal du Midi includes a private wine tasting at the Château Pech-Celeyran and a unique truffle hunting “expedition” with trained “truffle hounds”.
Throughout all this, guests enjoy private chauffeured transportation in air-conditioned Mercedes-Benz minibuses to and from their excursions. Onboard their hotel barge, they are rewarded with exceptional gastronomic meals every day, prepared by a master chef, that include wine pairings from local vintages. Barges also include onboard amenities such as spa pools and bicycles, available for guests’ use.
“Our 2023 bookings are already on another record pace,” said Banks. “We’re also seeing strong bookings for 2024 and even 2025. It reflects another travel trend of people feeling more confident about the future and booking their dream, ‘bucket list’ vacations far in advance.”
Banks added: “More and more travelers are discovering the ‘joys of luxury hotel barge cruising,’ and we are thrilled and honored to be recognized as a pioneer and standard-bearer for the industry.”