Posted by Heidi Schwartz
Viking Cruises Chairman Torstein Hagen has announced the selection of New Orleans as the homeport for Viking River Cruises’ first North American river cruise itineraries. The Mississippi River cruises will operate from docking facilities near the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Viking’s new service will result in the creation of 416 new direct jobs for Louisiana-based operations and vessel crews. Louisiana Economic Development (LED) estimates the project will result in an additional 368 new indirect jobs, for a total of more than 780 new jobs in the Southeast Region of the state.
In January 2015, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Hagen met at Viking’s operational headquarters in Switzerland to discuss the new itineraries and the impact the project will have on New Orleans and the region. Plans call for the construction of six new vessels over the next three years at an estimated cost of $90 million to $100 million per vessel, all of which will be built in U.S. shipyards and crewed by U.S. citizens.
Viking River Cruises customers, traveling to New Orleans from across the U.S., Europe and beyond, will bring new business to hotels, restaurants, museums and other attractions in the city, expanding sales for local merchants. More than 90 percent of sales created by the project will come from out-of-state customers.
Gov. Jindal said, “We’re proud to welcome Viking River Cruises to New Orleans. This investment will not only bring great new jobs to our state, but it will also showcase Louisiana and the Mississippi River to the rest of the world. Since its launch in 1997, Viking River Cruises has connected its passengers to Europe and Asia’s most scenic landscapes and cultural landmarks. With today’s announcement, the picturesque Mississippi River and the beauty of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other great cities of the American South will join the list of the company’s journeys as Viking River Cruises launches its first North American cruise. Viking could have chosen another port anywhere in the world, but chose Louisiana because of our state’s outstanding business climate, workforce and port infrastructure.”
With the launch of cruise operations on the Mississippi River in late 2017, two boats will be deployed per year, for a total of six new boats in the first three years. Cruises will take passengers on a journey along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to itinerary stops in St. James, East Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes; continuing upriver to Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis; or St. Paul, Minnesota, depending on the season. The specialty-built riverboats will have a full complement of luxury amenities and host up to 300 passengers at approximately one-tenth the size of oceangoing cruise vessels. Viking’s cruises are renowned for their locally oriented educational and entertainment programs.
“The Viking team is very proud to partner with the State of Louisiana, and we are grateful for the support of Gov. Jindal,” Hagen said. “We are excited about the prospect of bringing modern river-cruising to the Mississippi, a river that has been traveled by explorers for centuries. We know our passengers will enjoy the rich history, culture and cuisine of all the great cities and towns along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Paul. Together with our U.S. partners, we take great pride in the economic benefit that river-cruising provides to the regions our guests visit, from the shipbuilders to the local businesses.”
“New Orleans is on a roll, and this investment is yet another example of the continued growth across industries in our city,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. “With the creation of nearly 800 direct and indirect jobs, Viking’s project will generate major opportunities for our citizens, boost our tourism industry, and continue to turbocharge the Port of New Orleans. I am thrilled to welcome Viking River Cruises to New Orleans.”
LED began discussing expansion possibilities with Viking River Cruises in November 2013. To secure the project, the State of Louisiana offered the company a competitive incentive package that includes a $4.5 million performance-based grant for site preparation at the company’s docking locations in Louisiana. The company also will participate in LED FastStart®, which will include partnerships with the Louisiana Workforce Commission and local educational institutions.
“Having the top river cruise company homeport in New Orleans will be an outstanding chance to tell the story of the Louisiana renaissance to the world,” said President and CEO Michael Hecht of Greater New Orleans Inc. “Viking River Cruises choosing greater New Orleans is a testament not only to our culture and river, but also to our outstanding teamwork at the state, regional and local level. GNO Inc. is proud to have been an integral part of the team that met with Viking on two continents to bring them to New Orleans.”
Viking River Cruises was founded in 1997 with the purchase of four ships and the launch of river cruise operations in Russia. Since that time, the company has grown to become the world’s leading river cruise line, owning the largest share of the market and operating the largest fleet of cruise vessels along rivers across the globe. The company’s fleet currently features 60 modern, deluxe river vessels, including its innovative Viking Longships®. The company first expanded into the U.S. market by establishing U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles. The Mississippi River itineraries will be the company’s first cruise offering in North America.
“We are thrilled by the choice of the Port of New Orleans as Viking’s initial entry into the North American market,” said Port of New Orleans President and CEO Gary LaGrange. “Viking is one of the premier cruise brands throughout Europe and Asia. Their worldwide reputation underscores New Orleans as a destination city for both international and domestic leisure travelers. The Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans has worked with the Viking team for nearly two years to determine the proper venue for the new ships within the port and along the Mississippi River, and we couldn’t be happier to add Viking to the port’s cruise portfolio.”
“Viking River Cruises is an exciting and compelling addition to the opportunity-rich New Orleans destination,” said President and CEO Stephen Perry of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Viking is synonymous with elegance and class, and they will bring a diverse domestic and international clientele drawn not only to tremendous enjoyment of the river through cruising, but to the New Orleans part of their visit in this historic capital of American music and food as well.”
“It was an honor to be part of Governor Jindal’s recent economic development trip to Europe, encouraging companies to locate in our great state,” said Chairman Greg Rusovich of the Louisiana Board of International Commerce. “We witnessed the world-class standards employed by Viking River Cruises. Their New Orleans homeport will provide a positive impact along the Mississippi River, benefiting the ports and the private sector.”
“The decision to locate Viking’s North American homeport in New Orleans speaks to the operational capabilities of our port, the expertise of our hospitality workforce and the increasing popularity of river cruising around the globe,” said executive board Chairman Henry Coaxum of the New Orleans Business Alliance. “We welcome Viking to the New Orleans business community and look forward to its success.”