Just weeks ago, suppliers were optimistic that Europe’s Christmas market tours and river cruises this season would be part of the travel comeback.

Now, there’s a Scrooge on the scene. Another wave of COVID has overtaken parts of  Europe, leading to lockdowns and mass cancellations many had hoped we’d left behind.

And some of the worst-hit destinations… are Christmas Market Central.

On Monday, 22NOV, Austria went into a 20-day national lockdown and mandated vaccinations to help climb back out of the latest wave of the pandemic.

“Travel to Austria for touristic purposes will not be possible during this time,” the Austrian government’s announcement read, confirming that not just Christmas markets, but all attractions, as well as hotels and restaurants, will be closed. Tourists are being advised to depart as quickly as possible.

While Austria’s lockdown is scheduled to lift on 13DEC, that won’t save the end-of-year Christmas market tours and river cruises.

Published reports indicated – and operators now confirm to Open Jaw – that Christmas markets in the German region of Bavaria – including the famous Christmas market in Munich – have been cancelled for a second year in a row. Germany itself is reportedly considering another national lockdown, too.

And the U.S. CDC this week added both Germany and neighbouring Denmark to its list of highest-risk countries for travel as a result of rising infection rates. Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands were already put on that list in recent weeks.

Update 24NOV: The Guardian reports that France, “France is to announce new Covid measures tomorrow as infections surge across the country.”

Meanwhile, the Netherlands, already in partial lockdown for weeks, and battling the “highest number of daily Covid cases since start of pandemic,” is set to announce further restrictions on Friday.

Where does that leave river cruise and land tour operators, booked travellers… and travel advisors? Open Jaw reached out and is able to provide this update as of 23NOV.

Globus Family of Brands, Canada

Stéphanie Bishop, Managing Director, Canada. Globus Family of Brands
Stéphanie Bishop, Managing Director, Canada, Globus Family of Brands

Managing Director, Stéphanie Bishop, told Open Jaw that the Austrian lockdown and closure of Christmas markets there and in Germany “will have a direct impact on select Avalon Waterways cruises and select Globus and Cosmos tours to the region.”

The company is cancelling all Danube and Main-Danube river itineraries through the end of the year, and will directly contact all affected guests and their advisors, offering rebooking incentives as well as the option of a refund or letter of credit.

Other land itineraries will be revised.

“For the affected Globus tours, Globus has created an updated itinerary for the upcoming departures of the “Imperial Escapes” tour, departures Nov. 20, Nov., 27 and Dec. 4. Globus will be in contact with affected guests and their travel advisors to review the updated itinerary as well as alternative travel arrangements, if necessary.

“For the affected Cosmos tours,  Cosmos is cancelling the Dec. 3 departure of the “Highlights of Germany” tour, and we will be in direct contact with all affected guests and travel advisors to offer a range of options to reschedule to a new tour date.

The company is reaching out to earliest-affected guests first.

Bishop told Open Jaw, “Christmas market tours and cruises are always very popular and it is disappointing to have to cancel some vacations that our guests were undoubtedly looking forward to but we will always do what is right for the health & safety of our guests and to ensure their vacations are of the highest quality.”

And she had this message for travel advisors: “We empathize with our advisor community who have been working tirelessly during the past 20 months to ensure their clients are properly taken care of.”

She added, “Our phone lines are open, our hold times are short and our advisor portal has lots of information to help make the best decision for currently booked or clients who are looking to plan their next great vacation.

“Our Sherpa tool on our websites can help navigate the ever-changing restrictions in regions around the world as well.”

AmaWaterways

The river cruise company told Open Jaw Tuesday that the itineraries of four AmaWaterways ships on the Danube were affected this week, but it’s not cancelling the season.

Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-Founder of AmaWaterways
Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-Founder of AmaWaterways

Kristin Karst, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President, told Open Jaw the company was able to make last minute changes to salvage guests’ holidays this week. “We know how much our guests have been looking forward to their river cruise experience on board our festive ships so rather than cancel, we quickly reached out to our travel partners and guests and provided creative alternative arrangements.”

She added that AmaWaterways’ operations team “continues to evaluate upcoming sailings and we will be contacting all travel advisors and guests with options available if their Danube cruise may be impacted by the temporary lockdown in Austria.

“These arrangements may include moving to another ship or itinerary, or postponing to a future date. Guests cruising through Austria on modified itineraries will also be eligible to receive Future Cruise Credits depending on the number of days affected.”

The company plans to continue Christmas river cruise operations. “AmaWaterways festively-decorated ships will continue to sail on the Danube, Rhine and Rhône rivers and our wonderful crew are looking forward to welcoming our guests on board.”

Karst went on to say: “We commend and deeply appreciate the patience and flexibility shown by our travel advisor partners and their clients as we continue to adjust our Danube itineraries in order to safeguard our guests’ vacation plans.”

Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and Emerald Cruises

Lisa McCaskill, Vice President, Sales & Marketing Canada, Scenic Tours
Lisa McCaskill, Vice President, Sales & Marketing Canada, Scenic Tours

Lisa McCaskill, Vice President Sales & Marketing, provided Open Jaw with the company’s global statement, confirming that the company has suspended all of its remaining 2021 European river cruises.

All six affected Scenic river cruises and four Emerald Cruises river cruises were due to visit Europe’s Christmas Markets.

Scenic Group says it will be directly contacting affected guests this week to discuss options that include rebooking on a 2022 Christmas Markets river cruise.

The company statement goes on to add, “Everybody at the Scenic Group has been left saddened by the abrupt end to our 2021 season, sailing in Europe.

“For the last few months, we have welcomed thousands of guests on board our river ships, providing them with fantastic memories of sailing through the heart of Europe’s villages, towns and cities. We now look forward to new adventures with our guests once we commence the 2022 European river cruise season in March.”

The Travel Corporation

Michelle Palma, North American Executive Vice President of Sales for Uniworld
Michelle Palma, North American Executive Vice President of Sales for Uniworld

Michelle Palma, Vice President of North American Field Sales at Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, provided Open Jaw with the company’s official statement, made by Ellen Bettridge, President & CEO of Uniworld, on Wednesday.

“Due to Covid-related lockdowns in Austria and the closing of various European Christmas Markets, we will be suspending select Uniworld departures and are working on an alternative for guests still interested in experiencing the European holiday markets this year along the Rhine River,” said Bettridge’s statement.

“Our ‘Danube Holiday Markets,’ ‘Classic Christmas Markets,’ and ‘European Holiday Markets’ itineraries scheduled to depart in the first two weeks of December have been suspended, and guests have been contacted to discuss replacement travel dates and sailing options,” she added.

In addition to Uniworld river cruises, The Travel Corporation includes land touring brands Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold, and Trafalgar, which may also have affected itineraries.

Open Jaw will update this story with more information as it becomes available.

 

 

Lynn Elmhirst

With a background in broadcast news and travel lifestyles TV production, Lynn is just as comfortable behind or in front of the camera as she is slinging words into compelling stories at her laptop. Having been called a multi-media ‘content charmer’, Lynn’s other claim to fame is the ability to work 24/7, forgoing sleep until the job is done. Documented proof exists in a picture of Lynn at the closing celebrations of an intense week, standing, champagne in hand - sound asleep. That’s our kind of gal.

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