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As we look forward to 2019, six major trends emerge as having a vast impact on the river cruise industry—some newer than others.

Groups Today sat down with AmaWaterways to learn more about these trends and what groups can expect to find on their next river cruise adventure.

Food and Wine

Food and wine have become a major part of the travel experience, for seasoned travelers and first-timers alike. Many learn even more about a culture, its people and the destination through a heightened culinary focus. AmaWaterways has always put a priority on exquisite chef-prepared cuisine, paired with fine wines that are sourced along its cruise routes. In this way, traditional local flavors are blended with active shore excursions to provide deeper insights and more meaningful engagement. AmaWaterways' wine-themed cruises, led by North American wine experts, have surged in popularity. In 2019 the line will offer over 60 departures, based upon the popularity of this growing segment.

"We are committed to offering a robust lineup of culinary experiences within our itineraries because we understand that the guest experience is about much more than the accommodations and the destinations," said Rudi Schreiner, President and Co-owner of AmaWaterways. "From cooking classes with regional chefs, wine or apricot tasting in the Wachau Valley in Austria, to truffle hunting near Grignan, France, our vision is to give our guests a truly authentic taste of a world beyond their own."

Schreiner also noted that AmaWaterways celebrates the culinary arts on board by proposing wines based on the regions groups are traveling through, hosting dinners showcasing a signature tasting menu in The Chef's Table restaurant, and featuring a special Chaîne des Rôtisseurs-themed dinner in the ship's main restaurant.

Part of the food and wine trend overlaps with another trend related to wellness: healthy menu choices and knowing the source of ingredients—along with opportunities for daily exercise—are all important while traveling. Whole-grain breads, vegetable-forward menus, cage-free eggs, crate-free pork, fresh locally sourced fish, and gluten-free and low-sodium items are some of the healthy food choices AmaWaterways have introduced on their ships.

Wellness Travel

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle has become essential for many travelers when choosing their next vacation. More and more guests consider exercise part of their normal daily routine; steps are counted and heart rates monitored with wristband technology—and it's not uncommon to see the 25 bikes on board AmaWaterway's ships being constantly in use.

AmaWaterways sets an example in active cruising through the introduction of its new Wellness Program, which includes morning and afternoon group classes in stretching, cardio/core strengthening and resistance band workouts. Additional "signature" classes—based on the specialty of each dedicated Wellness Host—may include yoga, Pilates, dance classes or circuit training. Activities are complemented by group discussions on healthy eating and relaxation techniques.

AmaWaterways offers a minimum of three biking and two hiking tours on most itineraries and continues to expand these options to meet the increased demand from guests. The new Wellness Program will be offered almost fleetwide in 2019.

Multigenerational Travel

Multigenerational travel continues to be an area of focus for cruise lines as the demand for family-friendly options continues to grow. AmaWaterways has always welcomed families onboard, citing the belief that travel for young people is so important to open up their understanding and acceptance of diverse cultures and people. In 2016, the company introduced connecting and triple-occupancy staterooms—something uncommon on river cruise vessels, but perfect for the multigenerational market and group travel.

There are a wide choice of tours offered that meet the needs of multiple generations such as shore excursions, which are conducted in small groups catering to gentle, regular and active walkers, in addition to bike tours—appealing to younger family members.

Holiday cruises over the Thanksgiving and Christmas period are also becoming popular with families and groups. These types of adventures alleviate the stress of preparing, leaving all the festive meal planning and preparation, décor, and entertainment to cruise lines like AmaWaterways. All families and groups have to do is enjoy precious time together, which is what the holiday season is all about.

Personalizing the Travel Experience

River cruising can be a luxury product and experience, but the word "luxury" is being constantly redefined and has become more about time, space, service and personalization of the travel experience. Acting as floating luxury hotels docking in the center of most towns and cities, river cruising almost doubles the amount of leisure time guests can enjoy in each destination. The small size of river cruise ships allows for unique opportunities to personalize onboard service and how guests choose to experience the destination.

Anticipating this demand for more personalized luxury experience, AmaWaterways announced its newest ship AmaMagna, which will debut on the Danube in May 2019. The ship is twice the width of traditional river ships, offering 196 guests the luxury of more space and more ways to personalize their river cruise experience.

Respecting the Environment

It's become an increasingly high priority to travelers that their adventures are eco-friendly and leave their destinations just as they found them.

To minimize their carbon footprint, AmaWaterway's modern cruise ships have fuel-efficient engines, LED lighting onboard, and insulated windows that reduce heating and cooling energy needs. All ships are equipped with power locks to plug into a port's power supply, instead of running generators. This significantly reduces fuel consumption and noise levels while in port. AmaWaterways ships have water treatment plants onboard that use membrane technology to provide microfiltration and recycling of all water used onboard.

AmaWaterways is phasing out the use of plastic straws onboard its ships and continues to look for opportunities to reduce overall plastic consumption. Upon launch, AmaMagna will debut an innovative, even more fuel-efficient, eco-friendly engine design estimated to reduce fuel consumption by 20 to 25 percent and a new freshwater storage system to reduce chemical usage.

AmaWaterways adheres to a strict environmental protection code as determined by the European River Authorities. These authorities have developed detailed river basin management plans that oversee and monitor all economic activity related to the rivers—industrial, agricultural, commercial and recreational—including regular testing of the water quality around all ships.

Using Travel Advisors

While commodity purchases like point-to-point flights and simple hotel stays can be researched and booked online or direct with a supplier, time-strapped travelers are returning to personal travel advisors to propose options best suited to their needs and book the more complicated multi-part experiential trips such as cruising.

"When AmaWaterways was founded 16 years ago, the business model was built solely around the travel agent community. Our field sales team has grown to 23 people and we all believe that passionate, educated travel advisors will continue to be the best channel of distribution for our product," said Gary Murphy, Vice President of Sales and Co-owner of AmaWaterways. "As a result, AmaWaterways invests heavily in education and training and designs the company's marketing and communication programs to be a true partnership with travel advisors, helping them and us to find the right clients for our product."

Screen fatigue and wanting a real person to assist if anything should go amiss during the vacation are two other factors driving this trend. As the trend continues for advisors to be home-based rather than inside a brick and mortar location, they are flourishing and doing well particularly in the luxury travel category.

"Destinations, ships, rivers and tours will change over the years, but that human connection is essential and that feeling of being treated like 'family' will always remain the top priority at AmaWaterways," said Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-owner of AmaWaterways.

"Our goal continues to be to exceed guests' expectations and that means recruiting staff with a 'sparkle,' training them carefully, and anticipating what will surprise and delight all of our guests whether traveling as a special interest group, a couple, solo or as a multigenerational family."

Content and photo courtesy of AmaWaterways.

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