Agents selling river cruises maintain the sector could hold up better than ocean cruises in 2009, but fear later sales and knock-down prices.

This week, agents on a Peter Deilmann River and Ocean Cruises educational in Germany and Austria said the sector’s mature and mainly retired client base could help it withstand the impact of the economic downturn.

Most admitted sales declined at the start of October because of worries about the UK banking industry but said they had now picked up.

GoCruise franchisee James Hill said: “The type of clients that go on river cruising are less affected than the family market who choose ocean cruising.

“At the beginning of October clients panicked, but now they feel more secure. Overall, I think UK demand for river cruising will hold steady next year.”

Ian Hopley, managing ­director of Travelux in Tenterden, Kent, added: “We have noticed an upsurge in enquiries for river cruises but I am struggling to convert them all and have asked more cruiselines for their brochures. In the last month we have also seen a drop-off in ocean cruise sales.”

He attributed the increase in demand to clients returning to book quality product in Europe and the fact that most river cruises don’t require customers to take long-haul flights.

But Cruise Network travel consultant John Pengelly warned older clients may put off booking river cruises to help out younger members of their families. He feared discounting could creep into the river cruise sector.

He said it would depend on whether ‘baby boomers’ spent their holiday funds on helping out their families as the credit crunch starts to take effect.

“I think there will be more discounting in the river cruise market,” said Pengelly.

Hill said river cruise operators were likely to introduce more booking incentives to boost sales next year.