PHOTO: Avalon Affinity river cruise ship on the Danube near Austria’s Melk Benedictine Abbey. (photo courtesy of Avalon Waterways)

The river cruise industry continues to thrive in Europe with great optimism among its many players.

2016 saw a 2.7 percent increase in passengers, 1.36 million total, over the year before. Of the guests, 39 percent were from the United States and Canada.

“North America turns into an ever more important source market for Europe’s river cruise operators, as does the UK with a spectacular eleven percent leap in terms of passengers last year,” said Frederik Erdmann, European River Cruise Correspondent for Seatrade, in a press release.

In 2016, 22 new European riverboats came online, with 17 more are launching this year. 2018 will also welcome additional vessels.

Erdmann added, “We are seeing new visions, new ideas and new concepts arriving, with Crystal River Cruises’ Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler being inaugurated late this summer as two spectacular examples. Technologically, the successful return of paddle wheel propulsion has made new destinations available – particularly along rivers with a shallow or seasonally varying water level.”

Among new river products are those targeted at younger demographics.

Ben Wirz, Managing Director, GRC Global River Cruises GmbH, in the press release, said, “here at Uniworld, we’re particularly excited about the launch of a new concept in 2018 aimed at capturing the millennial market – U by Uniworld. As our guests become more independent, design innovations ensure we keep on exceeding their expectations, while advances in technology allow us to continue to reduce emissions and work towards a more sustainable future for the rivers we sail.”

Crystal Cruises is not the only ocean line to branch into the river one, either: Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines scheduled a 2018 voyage aboard its own 156-guest Brabant.

“We are proud to be bringing our many decades of expertise and rich sailing heritage to the river cruise market for the very first time,” commented Justin Stanton, sales and marketing director for Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, in the release.

READ MORE: What Sets River Cruising Apart from Ocean Cruising

Looking beyond 2018, Daniel Buchmüller, Chief Services Officer, River Advice AG and President, IG RiverCruise recognized, in the release, “The transformation to modern, more comfortable river cruise ships consistently pursued over the last years. On the other hand, environmental and societal challenges will continue to grow. Innovation is a key to attract new passengers – and to surprise repeaters. Security is a key to maintain the passenger’s confidence.”

Other challenges that a successful present and future brings include congestion. As more riverboats set sail, it becomes more difficult to support them at existing docking stations that are already busy.

This only complicates matters of security when passengers are often required to pass through several other ships to reach their own.

“The challenge is to find ways to not compromising the very arguments that lead to the success of river cruise,” explained Lucas Sandmeier, General Manager Operation, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, in the release.

“Combine this with the ever-increasing demands to provide security to its travellers, the equally increasing number of regulations and desires from authorities, regulators, governments and unions as well as the introduction of technology to deliver a guest experience, and the mix may produce a product that has little resemblance to the so successful river cruise of today.”

READ MORE: Choose an All-Inclusive River Cruise for Your Next Trip

Put it all together and it becomes clear that European river cruising is not about to slow down. What may change over time is how it operates to better handle the greater influx of interested travelers.

Additional docking stations are likely to be built in the years ahead as new destinations along the rivers are likely to be developed. The end result would be more diversity for new and repeat cruisers.

More will be discussed at Seatrade Europe on September 6-8, 2017.

This post first appeared on TravelPulse.

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