Our World The top travel and cruising trends for Europe 2018

Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Savvy travellers bound for Europe next year are booking their packages early, hitting up Portugal, getting active and embracing their cruise ship as a floating hotel.

An analysis of the trends noted by travel agencies and tour and cruise companies paints an interesting picture of how Australian travellers are seeing Europe next year. And within the brushstrokes there are plenty of lessons to be learnt.

It’s a point that can’t be stressed enough — book early. Europe earlybird deals from airlines and tour and cruise companies were being released throughout August and September. But don’t despair, there are still plenty of good deals around this month, and more will follow, though it is unlikely the value will be quite so good in subsequent weeks.

Uniworld Australia managing director Fiona Dalton believes it’s best to book as far ahead as possible, when the choice of cabin and itinerary is wider and there are some great early booking bonuses to be had.

“We do remind our guests not to wait because, unlike ocean cruising, the space on a river ship is limited and we cannot guarantee that our guests’ first-priority cabins will be available down the track and, if it is, there is a likelihood it will be more expensive than the earlybird rates,” Ms Dalton says.

Viking Cruises Australia product manager Lubica Sibikova says travellers are booking at least a year to 18 months in advance, ensuring a discount and their preferred date and stateroom category. Popular itineraries sell out fast.

“Our guests love our all-inclusive pricing, which includes return flights to Europe, shore excursions, meals, beverages and all tips and gratuities,” Ms Sibikova says. 

These bundled offers prove immensely successful. For instance, HolidayPlanet’s most popular packages combine airfares, a coach tour, cruise and some free time before and after each component.

The “floating hotel” concept, where cruise ships berth overnight in destinations, is a winning one, according to Bicton Travel sales and marketing manager Barry Downs.

“Some ships now stay in port the first and/or last night of a cruise to allow you to use the ship as a floating hotel,” he says. “In small-ship cruising, guests are looking for itineraries that stay longer with either overnight stays or late departures.” 

Travellers are also looking to spend more time in each destination with multi-night stays. “My personal tip is to spend more time in fewer places. Allow a point in your itinerary where you can pause and relax for longer, taking in the sights as a local rather than a tourist dashing from A to B,” Mr Downs says.

Portugal is the pick for next year, mostly because of the success of river cruising.

Evergreen’s new Rhone and Douro rivers combination is a top seller for the group. “This exclusive-to-Evergreen combination of France and Portugal river cruising is a feast for the senses,” the company’s marketing manager Judith Hainke says. 

“Both regions are famous for their cuisine, gorgeous landscapes, charming villages, and wealth of history and culture, and the relaxed pace really appeals to guests.” 

Uniworld is also finding the waters of the Douro popular. “One of Europe’s best-kept secrets is Porto, in Portugal, with Uniworld’s itinerary taking guests on an extraordinary journey along the Douro River,” Ms Dalton says. 

“Meanwhile, Vienna, Amsterdam and Budapest also continue to be Europe’s most beautiful and intriguing cities.” 

Flight Centre WA marketing manager Dani Luck says as Europe becomes cheaper, travellers are heading over more frequently and so are seeking emerging destinations. Along with Portugal, she lists Croatia, Spain and Iceland as popular spots. 

She says river cruising is widening its demographic with a younger market being targeted by the likes of U by Uniworld, which times its river cruises with festivals such as Oktoberfest.

Mr Downs says the Mediterranean is also back in favour but this time with smaller ships. This reduced capacity means early booking is essential.

Greece, he adds, represents outstanding value and the popularity of Northern Europe means bookings are already tight for the 2018 high season.

According to Royal Caribbean Cruises Australia managing director Adam Armstrong, while the Mediterranean remains popular there’s been increasing interest in Adriatic hotspots such as Croatia and Montenegro. 

“Kotor in particular is proving incredibly popular with guests, as the town itself really does maintain an untouched, old-worldiness about it, and a cruise through the indescribably beautiful Bay of Kotor truly is the most amazing way to arrive,” Mr Armstrong says of the Montenegrin destination. 

Peregrine Adventures has responded to the increasing demand for small-ship cruising in Europe by tripling its departures next year. Its Adventure Cruising range uses ships carrying no more than 50 travellers, allowing access to small ports and less-frequented areas. 

It has also reduced its tour group sizes from 16 to 12, and earmarked Romania as the next European hotspot. 

Intrepid Travel is keen to respond to over-tourism issues across Europe — particularly in Barcelona and Venice — releasing a “not hot travel list”. It suggests choosing North Cyprus instead of Croatia, Calabria and Sicily instead of Venice, Portugal and the Azores instead of Spain, Finland rather than Iceland, Moldova rather than Tuscany, and the Tatra Mountains instead of the Alps.

Guests are also increasingly looking to get out and truly experience a place.

Globus has seen demand for “experiential tours” with more hands-on experiences. The company’s Avalon Waterways has released the Active Discovery of the Rhine, a new eight-day cruise from Frankfurt to Amsterdam.

 Passengers choose active outings including climbing Marksburg Castle, biking along the Rhine or joining a running tour in Amsterdam. These active itineraries have been attracting younger people.

UTracks is also finding a new demographic on its cycling tours by offering electric bikes — available on 80 per cent of its 187 cycling itineraries across Europe next year.

“An e-bike can be ridden by almost anyone and makes the journey physically easier without taking away from the adventurous spirit of a cycling trip,” UTracks general manager Kate Baker says.

The e-bike opens up cycling holidays to a broader market, from couples or families with differing degrees of ability to people who do not feel confident enough to do a longer tour or those who want to complete a demanding itinerary but are not sure whether they are physically capable.

“We are also seeing older travellers who have been avid cyclists for many years swapping their regular bikes for e-bikes because they don’t want to give up their European biking holidays.”

Earlybird deals are still available

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