Despite having scaled back Viking Tours to just three itineraries and taking a couple ships out of rotation, 2009 has been a good year so far, according to Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking River Cruises.
"Last year was a bad year because of the dollar and fuel," Hagen said. But he said Viking's bookings this year were 8% ahead of last year at this time.
So, while capital has been hard to come by for much of the industry, Hagen has secured an equity partner and plans to finalize a deal in the next month or two.
Hagen, Viking's largest shareholder, said the company would be adding, rather than selling, shares. He declined to give further details about his investor but said it was not a travel company.
The investment comes just as Viking has quietly scaled back some of its operations.
Viking Tours, the river cruise operator's land program, which launched in 2007, has been reduced to three itineraries in Egypt, India and the Galapagos.
At launch time, Michele Saegesser, senior director of national accounts and industry training, said Viking would guarantee every departure offered in its brochure, which listed only 60% of the dates being offered. "I'm that bullish," he said in June 2007. "I don't think we have enough dates. I think we'll oversubscribe this."
The product launched with 10 itineraries in 2007 and increased its offering to 12 last year, adding Italy and South America to Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, Chile, East Africa, Scandinavia, Southeast Asia and southern Africa.
Most of the land product was created in conjunction with ground operators in each region. The company blocked space on existing cruise itineraries for three small-ship trips: a coastal Norwegian cruise and a voyage in Antarctica, both with Norwegian Coastal Voyages, and the cruise segment of Viking's Galapagos program on the Galapagos Explorer II. Viking also blocked space on the Eastern & Orient Express rail trip from Singapore to Bangkok.
"I'm sure we'll get back into [the tour business] a bit stronger," Hagen said. "But I think we want to focus on the things we do right, and river cruising is coming along all right."
Viking has taken two ships out of rotation, one each in China and Ukraine. Neither were Viking-owned vessels.
In China, Viking is only operating the Viking Century Sun in 2009. The Viking Century Sky, said Hagen, which would not be chartered this year, went back to its owner, the Chongqing New Century Cruise Co.
In Ukraine, Viking will not be chartering the Lavrinenkov. It is bringing the Lomonosov in from Russia, leaving three ships there: the Viking Surkov, the Viking Kirov and the Viking Pakhomov.
The Viking Legend, a new ship originally scheduled to launch in June, is now scheduled to make its first departure on July 5. The Legend is slated to sail Viking's 15-day Grand European Tour between Amsterdam and Budapest along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers.
After launching the Legend, Viking has no plans to add capacity through 2010.