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Who’s really running that river ship you sailed on in France, Germany or Holland last year? You think you know the answer. After all, it carried a famous brand and was flagged with a well known tour operator’s logo.

But when Scenic Cruises announced this week that it was taking back full management of its European fleet, some loyal Scenic passengers would have been entitled to say: “We thought you were managing them?”

Impeccable service is a major drawcard for luxury river cruise companies. So passengers would have expected staff onboard would be from the line they booked with. It is, after all, often cited as the line’s point of difference.

However, the practice of contracting a separate company to staff Europe river cruises for economic operational reasons has, for some lines at least,  changed all that.

G&P Cruise Hotel Management previously managed five of Scenic’s fleet of 11 ships in Europe, taking care of staffing the ship with service and kitchen staff, food and supply planning and more. The five ships are the Scenic Jade, Jewel, Pearl, Ruby and Crystal.

And by all accounts they did it well. The line conceded contracted staff had managed to achieve high guest satisfaction survey results of 95 per cent.

Scenic’s sister line Emerald Waterways, sold as Evergreen Cruises in Australia, remains staffed by G&P Cruise Hotel Management. And on G&P’s website, they say that they staff 25 different tour operators.

Meanwhile Travelmarvel and APT says that the Cruise Director and Entertainment & Activities Coordinators aboard all sailings are employed by the line. However, hospitality staff are employed by the line’s partner, Sea Chefs.

We also found on IG River Cruise, The European River Cruise Association, that other similar contractors like River Advice offer their services on 15 Avalon Waterways ships. Sea Chefs also services 18 AmaWaterways with APT ships.

So does it matter?

Scenic says that taking back full management will enable them to “create a generation of crew who will genuinely exemplify our Scenic culture”. It is also “the next logical step in delivery on a global brand, and the necessity for absolute product consistency and delivery across the entire fleet”.

Scenic also reveals the additional benefits of directly managing their ships, which appears to show that G&P Cruise Hotel Management were provisioning their ships as well as staff the kitchens.

“Scenic Group will also benefit from increased purchasing power to source top quality ingredients that will continue to differentiate our on board dining experiences,” said the line in a statement.

“Most importantly having the entire hospitality crew directly employed and managed by Scenic will enable us to create a generation of crew who will genuinely exemplify our Scenic culture, and will enable us to invest in high level standards for crew, leveraging e-learning and enabling career paths.”

Two lines that do directly manage their entire fleets is Viking River Cruises and Uniworld.

Viking River Cruises, the line with the largest fleet on Europe’s river, says that the line owns and operates all of its ships. All Viking crews are directly employed, trained and managed by the line.

Uniworld also highlights that a key difference of the line is that their crew is not employed on contract. They are employees of Uniworld and 93 per cent of the staff returned for the season just completed.

“This is unusual in the river cruise industry and the average tenure of a Uniworld team member on our ships is now close to 10 years,” says Uniworld.

“By virtue of this our crew are very much part of our family and in turn our guests often say to us they feel part of the crew’s family, it’s what truly makes personalised service part of our DNA.”

This means that on Uniworld, guests are likely to be welcomed back on ship by the same staff they sailed with on their last holiday. The staff often remember guest preferences and have everything prepared as a result.

So does it matter? We’d like to hear from you.

Which line do you think has the best service? And can you tell the difference when sailing with lines that directly employ their staff?

Share your service experiences below.