Q&A With European Waterways’ John Wood-Dow

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One of European Waterways’ barges, L’Impressionniste.

Recommend had the opportunity to speak with European Waterways’ president, John Wood-Dow, to hear more about the barge cruising market and how it’s impacting the cruising industry for clients heading to Europe.

Lane Nieset: European Waterways has seen double digit growth over the past three years. Why do you think barge cruising has become so popular?

John Wood-Dow: Cruising is a growth market. People love the idea that they’re on the water and they have a hotel that moves with them. Barging is a more experiential type of holiday—you have the opportunity to really immerse yourself in the gastronomy, the food, the wine, the culture, the scenery of the region. We travel very slowly—you may only do 100 miles in the week—so you’ve got that opportunity to have a total experience. Only about eight to 12 passengers are on the barges at a time, so it’s a more intimate experience. One of the other benefits we have is that about half of our business comes from whole-boat charters. It’s quite easy to put together a group—but obviously you couldn’t do that on a bigger ship. You have your own private space and we can tailor the cruise for a charter, adapting it for passengers’ interests, whether it be golf, cycling or walking.

LN: Do you see a trend in multi-generational travel in barge cruising?

JWD: We offer different things for different age groups, and because it’s their own private space, people aren’t worried that they’re going to disturb other people with their family entertainment.

LN: Who is the clientele booking these types of excursions?

JWD: Our classic client is someone who is quite sophisticated, and who has already traveled a lot. People who have done London and Paris and some of the better known tourist destinations and are looking for something different. We tailor to clients who want to do something that they couldn’t do on their own or couldn’t do as part of a bigger group. We might take them to an olive oil press to see how olive oil is made in the South of France, or in Venice, we’ll take them to have dinner in a private stately home with the countess who owns it. We’ll see people in their 50s up to their 90s who enjoy that relaxing environment. We help people to really understand the region they’re cruising through.

LN: How does barge cruising differ from ocean or river cruising?

JWD: We focus on the destination and travel short distances very slowly. We cruise the small canals and small rivers; we’re only a few feet from the bank. We can stop almost anywhere and you can get off and walk, or take a bike ride, and the barge will be there waiting for you when you come back. On a big river ship, there are only certain places where you can dock, and when you do dock, you’ll be docking with lots of other big ships and you’ll be part of much bigger groups. It’s a different experience; you won’t get the same intimate atmosphere you get on a hotel barge.

LN: What trends do you see with barge cruising for this year?

JWD: People enjoy the longer waterways, such as the barge cruises down from Holland to Alsace, through northern France, Paris, Champagne. It’s more like pioneering doing a real journey instead of a short vacation. Longer cruises are a new, interesting trend for people who have got the time. We’re also trying to encourage a younger demographic (in their 40s, 50s and 60s), and we find that these people, although they love their food and wine, they also want to burn off some of their calories. We’re offering bike excursions for people to do a 2-hour ride on their own and come back to the barge without missing any excursions. We’ve even got tandem bikes on some barges.

LN: What are some of the other things guests can find on board?

JWD: Most of our barges have spa pools and jacuzzis where guests can sit on board and watch the world cruise by. We always are looking to bring out new, interesting things. Some of our barges will have telescopes because where we cruise, you’re really in the deepest countryside and have fabulous night skies. Every day there will be an excursion, a walking excursion or a transfer to a wine tasting at a private chateau or at least once a week you’ll be able to accompany a chef to market. If you see something you like, whether that’s seafood or cheeses, the chef will buy it and incorporate it into your dinner that night.

LN: Why should agents recommend barge cruising to clients who have not done this type of cruising before?

JWD: For people who like that very relaxed type of vacation, and really want to experience a region completely, I think it’s a great thing to recommend. For the agents themselves, there are a couple of benefits. Since it is all-inclusive, and it is not a cheap vacation, they will make a healthy commission. More than half our clients come from North America, and I think the barging concept really resonates with them. We have a great variety of barges to offer anybody that likes that kind of concept.

European Waterways is offering a 6-week cruise on the 12-passenger L’Impressionniste in the fall. The cruise will start in Avignon, France and end in Amsterdam, cruising down the Rhone, Seine, Moselle and Rhine. Rates start at $25,000 pp in jr. suite; $23,700 in a stateroom; and $265,000 for a full-boat charter. Rates include all gourmet meals, wines, open bar, excursions and local transfers.

For more information, visit gobarging.com.