For Viking, it seems like the right time to go with the flow again

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Viking longships in the heart of Paris.
Viking longships in the heart of Paris. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Viking

"What a blessing it is to be cruising in Europe again," said everyone I encountered on the four Viking longships that officially debuted on the Seine in Paris on the first days of spring.

Restrictions have disappeared, flowers are in bloom and, oui, the Parisians are indeed smiling at us. 

And once again, Viking executives are expecting a great year for river cruising.

Lovers of international travel are ready to go, executive vice president of marketing Richard Marnell said while aboard the new Viking Radgrid, with the Eiffel Tower serving as a backdrop. Many itineraries are full, but there is still space this spring and good values, and "the local populations realize how much they appreciate tourism and are welcoming Americans with open arms," he said.

At the press conference before the official naming ceremony of its eight new longships (four in Paris, four via video feed from Amsterdam), Viking chairman Torstein Hagen declared the threat of Covid "really behind us. It's much less serious, and we should get back to life."

On Viking cruise ships, the daily onboard saliva testing remains. In case of illness, Viking will extend its usual personal service for all guests: They will be transferred to a hotel on shore, where they will be looked after until they are cleared to return home.

While his favorite itinerary, Moscow to St. Petersburg, is temporarily suspended, Hagen said "we are very, very glad we have come so far" since the day Viking stopped cruising more than two years ago.

From then until this May, Viking will have taken possession of 15 new ships. "We have a lot to be thankful for," he said.

Viking's first Great Lakes Explorer itinerary, Niagara and the Great Lakes, sails from April 28 to May 5, Toronto to Milwaukee, aboard its new expedition ship, the Octantis. Calls include Niagara Falls, Detroit and Mackinac Island.

And while "we are not in Chicago yet, we hope to be there in not too long," Hagen said. (Viking does, however, offer a pre-cruise extension in the Windy City.)

Karine Hagen, in Viking garb, and godmothers from the travel industry welcome new longships to the Viking fleet.
Karine Hagen, in Viking garb, and godmothers from the travel industry welcome new longships to the Viking fleet. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Viking

Sailing the world

The new itineraries on the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes have seen "unique demand" and are very quickly selling out. "If you are interested in '22 or '23, book now," Marnell said.

Egypt is virtually sold out for 2022 and is quickly filling up for 2023. Marnell said it's a "fabulous destination" for lovers of history and culture, and its demographic is thinking, "I'm not going to wait, I'm going to go."

Viking continued to market throughout the period it was not sailing, a decision that produced very good forward sales, according to Marnell. 

"It gave people something to look forward to," he said. "Our budgets are increasing as we are back to a 100% operating environment, and we fully expect to be very supportive of the travel advisor community."

A commitment to travel advisors

From left, Viking vice president of sales Michele Saegesser, Signature's Karryn Christopher, Virtuoso's Muriel Wilson and AAA's Brenda Hunsberger.
From left, Viking vice president of sales Michele Saegesser, Signature's Karryn Christopher, Virtuoso's Muriel Wilson and AAA's Brenda Hunsberger. Photo Credit: Cheryl Rosen

For that community, Viking is starting to bring back cruise nights and continues its marketing support with the various consortia, as evidenced by three of the eight godmothers named at the ceremony being from Signature, Virtuoso and AAA Travel. 

"What I appreciate most about Viking's support during the pandemic is the incredible content they create that keeps travelers engaged and the tools they provide to help advisors share and leverage that content," said Karryn Christopher, Signature Travel Network's executive vice president of marketing and preferred partnerships and the godmother of the Viking Gersemi. "Travel and encouraging others to travel more is all about inspiration and connection, and in my opinion, Viking is a leader on both fronts. I'm excited about their continued growth as the fleet continues to grow and the Viking experiences expand."

Christopher and AAA's Brenda Huns-berger have been waiting two years for this in-person celebration since being named godmothers in 2020; Virtuoso's Muriel Wilson was completely surprised when she was chosen by Viking.

"We look for unique people, people who have changed the business," Viking vice president of sales Michele Saegesser said. 

The decision to honor the travel advisor channel "is more than symbolic," Marnell said. "We want you, we are supportive of you and everything you've done, and we hope you are OK."

So as a marketing expert, how would Marnell suggest that travel advisors encourage wary clients to follow the example of the Vikings of old and set sail for foreign shores? 

"If I were a travel advisor, my theme right now would be to rediscover the destinations that brought you such joy in Europe, countries like France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Portugal," he said. "It's about rediscovering an old friend." 

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