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In New York onboard oceangoing vessel Viking Sky, Tor Hagen — founder, chairman and CEO of Viking — looked back on his days with Royal Viking Cruises and industry icon Warren Titus, and forward to a 120-ship fleet sailing the rivers and seas.
Coming from the shakedown cruise on the new Viking Sun out of Venice, Italy, Hagen recalled 20 years of company history, starting with when Viking River Cruises debuted “with four Russian ships at $8 million and two guys with two mobile phones.” His return to seagoing cruises came with the announcement of Viking Ocean Cruises’ launch in 2013, with the company launching four sea vessels in the past two years.
This year, Viking is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and the combined river and seagoing operation now has 6,000 employees and carries 350,000 guests per year, generating more than 2 million past passengers, according to Hagen. And, at this point, Viking’s annual $2 billion in revenue is comprised of one-third ocean cruising and two-thirds river cruising. Hagen said Viking has grown at a compounded rate of 27 percent per year since 2012, compared to the industry’s overall rate of 4 percent.
Hagen attributed this success to following Titus’ precepts when he felt that ocean cruising had lost its way, which he defines as experiencing geography, culture and history. One of Hagen’s focuses is to create quiet ships with an unusually large amount of public space and decor that channels understated elegance.
“The huge ships try to be everything for everyone, and that isn’t a good thing,” he said. “We take people to destinations and enrich their lives.”
Hagen also noted that he considers simplicity and ease of use to be crucial aspects of upscale cruising.
“We have a remote control you can easily work; bath products you can identify and open without difficulty; and large showers with full pressure,” he said.
In addition, Viking’s strategies for making more efficient use of space result in savings it hands off to the customer; Hagen placed the company’s pricing close to that of Celebrity Cruises.
He pointed out that he has seen his share of naysayers since the line announced its seagoing ships, partly because Viking planned and executed four vessels with the same design.
“If you’ve got it right the first time, why change it?” he said. “We’re known for what we don’t have as well as what we do. No umbrella drinks, no butlers, no inside cabins, no sales pressure in the spa, no charge for the launderette, no charge for Wi-Fi access and no charge for alternative restaurants or for a shore excursion in every port .”
He pointed out that Viking is the first cruise line to abandon all non-negotiable fees.
“That’s a value of up to $203 per day if guests use all the inclusions,” he said.
Viking’s policies attract guests who wouldn’t otherwise sail on ocean ships, and the line’s ocean bookings for 2018 are now 69 percent higher than those for 2017 during the same time .
With all this success behind him, Hagen’s plans for the future won’t slow the company’s pace. In addition to its four seagoing ships, Viking currently has four other ocean vessels in the pipeline, and Hagen projected that the line will eventually hold a fleet of 20. The fifth oceangoing ship, 930-guest Viking Orion (originally called Viking Spirit), will debut in July. Its godmother will be Dr. Anna Fisher, an American chemist, emergency room physician and recently retired NASA astronaut. By 2019, Viking will introduce its sixth ship on the high seas, becoming the largest small-ship ocean cruise line, and two additional vessels are scheduled for delivery in 2021 and 2022.
As for Viking’s river cruise segment, Hagen said the line will increase the fleet from the present 64 vessels to 100. The plan is to launch seven newbuilds in 2019: Viking Helgrim will sail the Douro River in Portugal; the remaining six ships — Viking Einar, Viking Sigrun, Viking Sigyn, Viking Tir, Viking Ullur and Viking Vali — will sail the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. According to Hagen, Viking has spent more than $1 billion in advertising for destination-focused cruising and now has about 50 percent of the market share on the rivers. He also noted that Viking owns about 65 of the docking stations, so it can offer some of the best locations.
“We look forward to introducing even more guests to the Viking way of travel,” Hagen said, referring to his 20-year-old company as “just a startup — young and dynamic.”