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Health, Safety and Environmental Standards in the growing luxury river cruise industry

By Bart Maaswinkel (B.Sc.)

In the last few years the popularity and demand for luxury river cruises has grown significantly. Taking a river cruise is no longer associated with older generation of people (the so called ‘Baby Boomers’), but also the younger generation of ‘Millennials’ are now discovering the beauty of river cruising. Major river cruise companies and operators are adapting to this new trend, by building more ships and offering more river cruises in remote exotic locations, or even offering ‘expedition river cruises’. Especially river cruises in SE Asia, like on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia and on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar are growing in popularity. But also, other remote rivers in e.g. Laos, Indonesia, China, India, Peru, Egypt and in Botswana are being explored and will gain more popularity in the coming years. 

The beauty of river cruises in general, but especially on rivers in developing countries, is that one can see up close and learn more about the different cultures and communities who reside by these rivers.

A similar trend can be observed in the Ocean cruise industry, where Cruise lines and travel agents alike have noted a major increase in Millennials cruisers in recent years and are offering more ‘expedition cruises’ with smaller cruise ships to remote areas of the world.

The Millennial generation is a totally different generation than the Baby Boomers. Millennials are more demanding, more tied into social media and more conscious and concerned about health, safety and environmental sustainability (i.e. climate change issues). Nowadays, if there are major incidents with loss of life, like e.g. the capsizing of the cruise ship Costa Concordia in Italy, or the recent Grenfell Tower fire in London, these incidents quickly went viral on social media and resulted in allegations of negligence, complacency and even manslaughter. Millennials feel more strongly that these incidents could and should have been prevented, if an effort had been made at prevention. A report from the American Psychological Association from 2014 indicated that Millennials place more emphasis on safety than any of the generations who came before them and are more conscious about their so called ‘safety needs’.

Figure: Maslow’s (1943, 1954) hierarchy of needs.

So, how can we help Baby Boomers and Millennials alike, in their quest and expectations of better standards of health, safety and environmental sustainability, in the growing river cruise industry?

Here are some ideas;

1. National governmental ministries and international organisations (e.g. Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine, Mekong River Commission, Cruise Lines International Association etc.) must work better together to develop, continuous improve, update and control health, safety and environmental legislation and regulations for river cruise ships.

2. Recognized classification societies should develop and better adapt their (maritime) rules and technical standards for inland ships, to help river cruise ship owners to build and operate safer and environmental friendly ships.

3. Business leaders and CEO’s must commit and communicate better to their employees that good health, safety and environmental sustainability is always the highest priority in every on-shore and on-board operation (e.g. by a corporate HSE policy or Code of Conduct).

4. Companies should not only train and re-train their staff in normal work place and job procedures, but also provide regular training in health, safety and environmental awareness and emergency preparedness.

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