European Waterways is reporting record sales of its luxury hotel barge cruises as post-pandemic concerns continue to drive many major travel trends that speak to the company’s canal barging experience. With some travellers still preferring to create “travel bubbles” composed of families and small groups, the company says that its private charter bookings have increased by more than 45 percent.
Travellers are also seeking experiences that take them “off the beaten path”; they want to be more than observers but also become immersed in the region’s local culture, gastronomy, and history, all integral parts of the European Waterways experience.
“We offer exclusive ‘slow travel’ and ‘relaxed luxury’ experiences that are consistently among the most frequently cited industry trends.”
“We had a record year in 2022, with bookings 16 percent higher than our previous record, because our cruises tick all the boxes,” said Derek Banks, European Waterways’ managing director.
Launching a New Niche Market
As a tribute to their focus on providing “the ultimate slow travel experience,” hotel barge Anjodi still sails the waters today, setting the standards for all-inclusive, luxury travel along the canals and waterways of the French countryside.
Their venture helped ignite a new niche travel industry that proved instrumental in revitalising Europe’s intricate network of scenic canals and inland waterways as tourism destinations. Built in 1929 initially to transport grain, the barge was meticulously transformed into a “boutique hotel on the water,” according to Banks.
Co-founders Derek Banks and John Wood-Dow launched European Waterways more than forty years ago by purchasing their first barge, Anjodi. It was one of the first luxury hotel barges on the Canal du Midi.
During the many years helping to grow the canal cruising market, European Waterways has developed close relationships with many local businesses, vineyards, personalities, and restaurants along their routes. As part of cruising Rosa in Gascony, guests will find themselves at the 18th century Château de la Motte, where the resident Baroness will give them a private tour and then take tea with them in her apartment. For example, guests aboard La Bella Vita on Italy’s River Po can enjoy a private lunch with a Countess at her legendary villa. These have proven essential in creating highly curated experiences for guests that have become a hallmark of European Waterways cruises.
Anjodi on the UNESCO-listed Canal du Midi includes a private wine tasting at the Château Pech-Celeyran and a unique truffle hunting “expedition” with trained “truffle hounds”.
Cruising the Champagne region on Panache, guests will enjoy a private tour, wine tasting and gastronomic meal at the boutique Grand Cru winery of Frerejean Frères. The company’s Scottish Highlander and Spirit of Scotland in Scotland include a private tour of the Dalwhinnie whisky distillery, followed by a tasting of several of its famous single malts.
Onboard their hotel barge, they are treated to exceptional gastronomic meals, prepared by a master chef, that include wine pairings from local vintages.
Throughout all this, guests enjoy private chauffeured transportation in air-conditioned Mercedes-Benz minibuses to and from their excursions. Barges also include onboard amenities such as spa pools and bicycles.
Banks added: “More and more travellers are discovering the ‘joys of luxury hotel barge cruising,’ and we are thrilled and honoured to be recognised as a pioneer and standard-bearer for the industry.” It reflects another travel trend of people feeling more confident about the future and booking their dream, ‘bucket list’ vacations far in advance.”
“Our 2023 bookings are already on another record pace,” said Banks. “We also see solid bookings for 2024 and even 2025.