The objective is to offer destination cruising at its best, according to Torstein Hagen, chairman and CEO of Viking Ocean Cruises. “Everybody is building bigger ships,” he told Cruise Industry News. “It is time that somebody builds smaller, quality vessels. “We have a base of passengers from our riverboats who are interested in destination cruising – in history and culture.”
While breaking off an initial agreement with STX France, Hagen said that Fincantieri had presented a design that suited his objectives very well, and that he expected to have a signed building contract by July, 2012.“My plans are to christen the first ship on May 17, 2015, in Bergen,” he added. “We will be sailing in Norway and in the Mediterranean.”
A company executive team has been built up consisting of, among others, Erling Frydenberg for hotel operations; John Rusten as head of development and new construction; and Richard Goodwin as director of engineering. Frydenberg served most recently as vice president of hotel operations with SeaDream and has previously held similar senior executive positions with Silversea, Disney, Crystal and Royal Viking Line. Rusten was in charge of Disney’s first newbuildings and has also worked for American Classic Voyages, Kloster Cruise and Fred. Olsen & Co. Goodwin comes from Lloyd’s Register where he was manager of passenger ships.
Having built up the largest riverboat company in the world, Hagen said it was time to take the next step. “I have been involved in ocean cruising since 1974,” he said. “Back then I was the youngest and worked as consultant for Holland America Line. Now, I am probably the oldest. I have made the full circle; I have seen it all; it would be nice to finish my career with an ocean cruise product again.”
As for ship names, Hagen said they will most likely be Viking gods. “Even if people cannot pronounce them, they like them.”
Viking River Cruises, with sales offices in Los Angeles and London, and operations in Basel, owns and operates some 39 riverboats in Western Europe, Russia, China, Egypt and Vietnam. “I started with two empty hands 15 years ago,” Hagen commented. “We acquired our first boats in Russia. Since then we have spent some $350 million on marketing and sales, plus agents’ commissions, and it is we that have built up the popularity of river cruising.” Eighty to 90 percent of Viking River’s passengers come from North America.
Photo: Torstein Hagen with the four godmothers from the Viking Longship christening in March: Joanna Lumley, Gail Wiswedel, Rebecca Eaton and Professor Lisa Randall.