(6:25 p.m. EST) — Today the world’s largest river cruise line, Viking Cruises, continued to expand with the christening of six new river boats in Europe. The line’s founder and chairman, Torstein Hagen, said the company was not "shying away" following the Paris terrorist attacks that had resulted in a dramatic turn-down in business in the weeks following the atrocities.
As Hagen introduced the newest members of the fleet at a christening ceremony attended by 150 guests and held in pouring rain in Amsterdam, he said that although growth had slowed — with just two new river ships in the pipeline for 2017 — he had every confidence the market would bounce back after the company took a record number of bookings on Leap Year Day.
Viking now has 46 190-passenger longships operating on the main European rivers, launched over the past five years, and with other ships sailing in Portugal, Egypt, Asia and Russia, its total fleet size has grown to 60.
For the last two years Viking has broken with the tradition of having famous names as godmothers. Last year some of the longest-serving members of the company stepped into the spotlight, and this year Viking chose travel agents from the U.S., Canada and U.K. to crack bottles of Champagne across the bows. However, the line maintained the tradition of naming all new ships after Norse gods, kings, noblemen and women, and the latest ships are Viking Alruna, Egil, Kadlin, Rolf, Tialfi and Vilhjalm.
Of the six new longships, four will be deployed on Viking’s most popular itineraries on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, and two will sail on the Seine in France. Later this month, Viking will debut a seventh new river ship for 2016, Viking Osfrid, which will sail on the Douro in Portugal.
Speaking to journalists, Hagen revealed the company experienced a 58 per cent drop in bookings following the Paris attacks in November 2015. However, he remained bullish by saying the line was not running scared from the slowdown caused by external events.
"We have addressed the concerns people have about perceived safety by introducing the option, in the U.S., for passengers to cancel at any time up to the cruise and receive all their money back," he said. "We are not there to profit on uncertainties, however this will not last forever and whilst we should not be dumb about things, we should not shy away from things.
We drive cars every day and we know what the risks are compared to terrorist attacks."
Hagen, who said he was halfway to his ambition of having 100 river vessels, added: "We will be launching two new river ships next year, however I think we will get back to faster growth in the future."
He said that as a result of passenger demand, expansion was currently being focused on Viking’s ocean-going product.
The line’s second ocean-going ship, the 930-passenger Viking Sea, will debut next month and sail in the Baltic and Mediterranean during its maiden season. Four other ships are on order, with the Viking Sky and Viking Sun debuting in 2017. The fifth and sixth vessels, launching in 2018 and 2020, have yet to be named.