Viking River Cruises has found an investor, and plans on finalizing a deal in the next month or two, according to Chairman Torstein Hagen.
Hagen, Viking's largest shareholder, said the investor is not a travel company. He also said Viking would add shares instead of selling existing shares to the new investor.
The injection of private equity replaces a plan for an initial public offering that Hagen laid out last May. "It’s always been our intention to get a stronger capital base," said Hagen.
Meanwhile, Viking has quietly scaled back some of its operations.
Viking Tours, the company's land program that launched in 2007, now offers three itineraries in Egypt, India and the Galapagos. The product launched with 10 itineraries in 2007 and increased to 12 last year. Viking has eliminated Italy, South America, Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, Chile, East Africa, Scandinavia, Southeast Asia and southern Africa programs.
"I’m sure we’ll get back into it a bit stronger," said Hagen. "But I think we want to focus on the things we do right, and river cruising is coming along alright."
Hagen said Viking’s bookings are 8% ahead of where they were last year this time.
Viking has taken two ships out of the rotation, one in China and one in the Ukraine. Neither are Viking-owned vessels, said Hagen.
In China, Viking is operating the Viking Century Sun in 2009. The Viking Century Sky, according to Hagen, will not be chartered this year. The ship's owner will charter the ship to Asia-based companies, he said.
In Ukraine, a similar situation took place with the Lavrinenkov, a ship that Viking won't charter for 2009. Instead, Viking is repositioning the Lomonosov from Russia to Ukraine.
Three ships rather than four will sail Russia’s rivers for 2009: Viking Surkov, Viking Kirov and 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.
While Viking is scaling back, Hagen is convinced that now is the time to invest in the business.
"We started this company in Russia in 1997, and who wanted to touch Russia in 1997? Nobody," said Hagen. "We decided to go into China in 2003 or 2004 when there was SARS. It’s called counter-cyclical. All good investors are counter-cyclical."