DFDS Seaways has introduced river cruises for 2009 along with an extended range of Center Parcs and activity centre holidays.

It is the first time the ferry operator has featured river cruises, most of which set sail from Amsterdam. There is a coach connection to take customers from DFDS ships, which dock at Amsterdam from Newcastle.

The company has teamed up with French river cruise company Croisi, but the operator is in talks with other river cruise operators to extend the programme.

Head of sales Andrew Crowe said: “We have never featured river cruises before and we have dipped our toe in the water but the size of the market is huge. This is for time-rich and cash-rich customers over 55 who often do not want to fly on holiday.

“We are expecting them to be popular because there is a big gap in the market left by [failed tour operator] Travelscope.”

The cruises feature in the operator’s new Short Cruise Breaks brochure, while product has also been boosted in its Holiday Brochure 2009. This includes an extended range of holidays in Center Parcs, offering stays in Holland, Belgium, Germany and France. Lead-in prices start at £171 per person for a nine-night holiday.

DFDS has also added one extra Danish Activity Centre, the Lalandia Billund by Legoland, which has indoor and outdoor activities.

Crowe said the company hoped to have XML links in place within six months to offer more accommodation product via partnerships with European tour operators.

Currently about 80% of the company’s sales are ferry-only and 20% are for ferry holidays, but the company hopes to increase holiday sales significantly. “I can see a day when the sales will be the other way round,” he added.

Also new for 2009 are tie-ups with Scandinavian ferry companies such as Silja Line in Norway to offer further connections.

* More WTM 2008 coverage at travelweekly.co.uk/wtm2008