Torstein Hagen, chairman and CEO of Viking River Cruises, celebrates the inauguration of 16 new long ships — the largest number of ships ever inaugurated in one day by one company. // © 2014 Viking River Cruises
“We’re Vikings! We want to conquer the world!”That comment by Viking River Cruises chairman Torstein Hagen reflects the line’s performance in the market, including the recent launch of 18 ships and big numbers for advance sales and annual growth.
At the March inauguration of 16 longships in three cities and two vessels on the Douro River in Porto, Portugal, Hagen said he sees no slowdown in the tremendous demand for river cruises that has marked the past 10 years.
“Our ships are filled and we assume everyone else’s are too,” Hagen said.
Viking’s share of the North American river cruise market has grown from 19 percent in 2007 to 49.6 percent for 2015, estimated on the basis of capacity. Hagen said the company has invested more than $400 million in marketing since its inception in 2007. One result of that is Viking has achieved 76% brand awareness in the target market for prospective river cruisers. The company is generally credited — even by competing lines — with putting river cruising on the map for the entire industry.
Hagen said 80 percent of Viking’s inventory is already sold for 2014 and the two Douro River ships are fully booked for the year. He places Viking’s compounded annual growth rate between 2001 and 2015 at 31 percent and growth for the rest of the river cruise industry at 11 percent. He said the growth rate for seagoing cruising — a market Viking will enter next year — stands at 5 percent.
Hagen credits river cruising with bringing back a focus on the destination experience, which he said much of seagoing cruising has lost.
Investing in River Cruising
Viking’s elegant longships cost $35 million each, according to Hagen, who said that’s about $8 million more than competitors’ ships.
“We don’t charge our customers less because we have an inferior product,” he said. “We are able to do this because of excellent design elements that have enabled us to add more staterooms.”
Those design elements include a blunt prow that gives the ships three full decks, moving the central corridor slightly to one side and pivoting staterooms to allow more suites and rooms along one corridor. Another differentiating design element are the ships’ hybrid engines, which have lower levels of vibration and noise output. This allows designers to position staterooms in areas formerly used for public space.
Hagen said the company is moving along on its plans to build vessels for the Mississippi River, although the timing will occur later than 2015 as originally scheduled. Challenges include finding a shipyard in North America capable of building the sophisticated river vessels. The only upcoming newbuilds in North America are from American Cruise Lines, which has its own shipyard.
Next year the company will launch 10 more new longships and two specially designed vessels for the Elbe River. All of the new ships will be deployed on the line’s most popular itineraries in Europe.
May 2015 brings the launch of Viking Ocean and the debut of the 928-passenger all-balcony Viking Star in Scandinavia, the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Star is the first of four Viking sister ships scheduled to debut by 2017.