River cruise specialists have welcomed confirmation from the Foreign Office that its advice against cruise travel applies only to “sea-going” ships in international waters.

Uniworld’s UK managing director Chris Townson said: “River cruise ships are small by comparison with ocean liners, carry far fewer passengers, and are always in close proximity to the shore, and therefore to local healthcare providers.

“For us it has never made sense for river to be treated any differently from a hotel resort – and like our hotel counterparts we have put incredibly robust and enhanced health and safety protocols in place for wellbeing and reassurance of both guests and staff.”

Phil Hullah, chief executive of Riviera Travel, said: “We are delighted that the FCO have clarified their advice.  River cruises are safe.  This is a victory for common sense, but more importantly is good news for the great British travelling public.

“Riviera Travel plans to only operate within FCO ‘safe countries’ such as France and Germany, and where the customer experience is safe and exceptional with our expert local guides and tour managers.”

He added: “For now at least, the world is quieter and less crowded and with smaller tour groups and venues limiting the numbers of people allowed in to particular sites, the holiday experience is likely to be bespoke and intimate.   We’re sanitising the ships not the holiday experience.

“Riviera Travel has been working on plans to resume a limited number of river boat cruises at the end of August.  Our brand new 5-star river cruise ships were designed to be more spacious, but we’ll go further by halving group excursion numbers and implement an even more scrupulous cleaning regime. We have methodically assessed every aspect of each tour, excursion and cruise.  Customers will enjoy a great holiday safe in the knowledge that we operate to the highest national and international standards.”

Jamie Loizou, UK managing director for AmaWaterways, said: “We are delighted that that the FCO have clarified their advice.

“The river cruise sector has always implemented very robust health and safety procedures, with many lines enhancing these further for the post-covid era. Our ships are small with large deck areas and always travel close to land.

“Our excursions such as cycle rides, hikes and city tours take place in small groups offering plenty of opportunities for social distancing. I’d like to thank Clia, ABTA and my fellow river cruise lines for their efforts in lobbying for this change.”

Lucia Rowe, UK and Ireland managing director at A-ROSA River Cruises, said the change was “great news”.

She added: “It’s important for agents to remember that river cruise ships are smaller and sail close to town and cities so services and facilities are easily accessible. We have already restarted on the Douro, Rhine, Danube and Rhone with an extensive health and hygiene concept in place and the initial feedback from our guests has been really positive.  We can’t wait to welcome our UK guests on those cruises where it is currently possible for them to travel.”

James Cole, managing director of cruise agency Panache Cruises, said: “It’s so pleasing to see that the FCO has changed its advice and river cruising has been given the green light.

“When you combine this with the industry-leading protocols that are being implemented by each of the cruise lines, the low deposit schemes and flexible booking conditions, together with the exceptional deals available to consumers, now is certainly the best time in the history of cruising to book a cruise. But my advice would be not to wait, as prices will increase as bookings gain momentum.”

Travel agency consortium The Advantage Travel Partnership is due to roll out a  campaign to support its members selling cruise this summer.

Leisure director Kelly Cookes said river cruise operators would welcome the move, but warned the indefinite advice agaisnt sea-going cruises “appears to be somewhat illogical” because most are already suspended.

She said the change is “creating even further confusion for customers and agents” and reiterated calls for the government to give a time frame on when they may review the advisory against ocean cruising.

“Cruise holidays can be complex and high-value bookings where customers benefit from using the expertise of the travel agent,” she said. “We want the government to streamline its messaging so we can help support our member agents to inform and inspire their customers for all of their cruise requirements this year and beyond.”

Andy Harmer, Clia UK & Ireland director, welcomed the news and said talks were ongoing over the resumption of ocean cruising. Harmer said: “This latest change to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s advisory regarding cruise ship travel provides a very welcome boost.

“We are seeing a gradual, phased-in approach to resumption of cruise operations across Europe, initially domestic and regional. Clia is continuing its constructive dialogue with the Department for Transport and Public Health England to finalise the road map to resumption of international cruise travel.”