European River Cruises Set Sail in Meetings and Events Market

Skift Take

Small river cruise ships are being custom built with meetings and corporate retreats in mind. Do they have the tools in place to accommodate these gatherings?

Once popular for meetings, company retreats, and incentives; the pandemic brought the river cruise industry to a screeching halt. Now that most Covid testing requirements for international travel have been lifted, cruise experts predict the floodgates will soon open.

Transcend Cruises is one company making waves in the corporate river cruise industry. The company’s ships are currently being purpose-built to accommodate the needs of business events meeting.

From a commercial standpoint, Transcend is taking a charter-only approach, meaning that it won’t be taking bookings from the public and will only work with groups that will take up the full vessel. It will debut in the spring of 2024 with two identical ships and eventually plans to grow its fleet size to 12.

“There is no other river cruise line like Transcend in the industry that is charter only,” said Karen Devine, CEO and founder of 3D Cruise Partners, a company that arranges group gatherings and charters on anything that floats. “They will be a trailblazer in the industry with the ability to customize everything.”

River cruises have plenty of things going for them. Meeting space, audiovisual equipment, and WiFi are all in place, as well as upscale food and beverage offerings, spas, and fitness centers. Combine this with the ability to visit different ports, and you have an attractive option for groups. Plus, attendees only have to unpack once.

A group can gather in three locations on board a river cruise ship — a huge selling point, said Devine. “They can meet in the main dining room, the main lounge, or the sky deck. They don’t have to fight for space. There is plenty of it,” she explains.

Transcend’s ships will have 60 identical staterooms accommodating 120 guests maximum, which convert in pairs to 30 two-bath sites or any configuration in between. There will be five areas onboard that accommodate meetings or other gatherings for all guests, with smaller spaces for breakouts. The signature space will be the two-story amphitheater.

Sandy Biback, a planner with over 30 years of experience in meetings, conferences, and events, is a huge fan of river cruising. “A river cruise makes a planner’s job so easy, and your attendees will be wowed,” she said.

One price includes just about everything, making a river cruise turnkey. “Meeting groups like the fact that river cruises are all-inclusive. For U.S.-based companies, this is an easy way to travel internationally knowing you will not be nickeled and dimed.”

Historic cities and landmarks in several countries and cultures are featured. For example, a popular river cruise highlights the Danube and four countries, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. Many river cruise lines even include some tours and beer and wine with meals in their packages. Plus, they are extremely flexible.

“River cruises are customizable not just from a branding standpoint, but the itinerary can be changed as well,” said Devine. “If a group wants to be on the river for three or four nights or longer, it is their call.”