The Delta Queen Steamboat Co. is rolling on the river again.
The company that ceased operations last October has been reborn,
thanks to new owners with deep pockets and a long-term
The Delaware North Companies, a privately held, $1.6 billion
corporation based in Buffalo, N.Y., bought the assets of Delta
Queen for $80.4 million at a bankruptcy auction May 3.
The steamboat company’s former owner, American Classic Voyages,
declared bankruptcy Oct. 19.
The 26-year-old Mississippi Queen resumed sailing on May 7, and
the Delta Queen, a National Historic Landmark built in 1927, is set
to start cruising on Aug. 26. The newest ship in the fleet, the
1995-built American Queen, is scheduled to resume operations Jan.
Despite the new owners, much about Delta Queen Steamboat remains
the same. The three boats are the same, many of the headquarters
staff have been rehired and a majority of the onboard staff was
with the company previously.
“The Mississippi Queen went out with 165 in the crew,” said Tom
Carman, Delta Queen’s chief operating officer, who spent 10 years
in various capacities with Delta Queen and its former sister
company, American Hawaii Cruises. “The Delta Queen will go out with
65 crew, and I believe I can say that less than 5% will not be
Carman likes to cite those statistics to reassure travel agents
who felt burned when AMCV went under.
Are agents still angry and leery?
“Both words apply,” Carman said. “A major goal of ours and an
absolute necessity is to get back a high level of credibility with
travel agents. You can’t wipe up the milk that’s already spilt.
There’s only a limited amount we can do regarding the unfortunate
circumstances of people getting financially whacked. Now we’re
trying to get a scaled incentive program for revenue produced to
try to encourage agents to work with us again.”
The financial stability of the new owner is also stressed.
“We continue to emphasize the strength of Delaware North. The
bankruptcy was really the impact of the [AMCV] expansion geared
toward Hawaii, which basically put AMCV on the skids, coupled with
the impact of Sept. 11.”
But Delta Queen Steamboat was highly successful and profitable
from 1997 to 1999, Carman said. It lost momentum when AMCV shifted
its focus to building ships in the United States and expanding in
Hawaii. AMCV operated both American Hawaii Cruises and United
States Lines in the Islands.
“Delaware North’s goals, as they and I have discussed them, are
to bring the company back to its former levels of profitability and
product delivery,” Carman said.
So far, the Mississippi Queen “has not been full to our 1997,
1998 and 1999 standards,” he said. “But a great deal of that is the
fact that we did not have a timely rollout of a marketing and sales
Still, the better-known Delta Queen is “chockablock for the
first two cruises” and above sales projections for the year, Carman
The marketing push is in the works. A brochure mailing for the
remainder of 2002 and all of 2003 is in production. The sales force
is also “working diligently to re-establish some preferred vendor
national account relationships. We’re also [beefing] up our
business development managers and will ultimately have eight,”
Last month, Delta Queen Steamboat hired Rolf Logan as director
of sales development to focus on building travel agent sales. Most
recently, Logan ran his own travel agency. Before that, he was
director of field sales for AMCV.
First Things First
What does the future hold for Delta Queen Steamboat?
“In order to be truly successful, we need to keep our eye on the
ball with the Mississippi, Delta and American Queen ships for the
near term,” Carman said. “As we get to the middle of next year, if
we meet our plan we’ll be in a position to consider possible
“When I say possible additions and this is purely speculation at
this time it’s safe to say that we are eyeing the two coastal
The two new Delta Queen Coastal Cruises vessels are still
sitting without new owners after the bankruptcy.
“We’ve got to get on solid footing before we can realistically
undertake future steps,” Carman said.