Viking’s UK MD Wendy Atkin-Smith tells Rebecca Barnes about how it feels to be a ship’s godmother.
Viking’s UK managing director Wendy Atkin-Smith was named godmother of the line’s new Longship Viking Sigrun at a naming ceremony in Basel last month. Here, she talks to Cruise Adviser about how it felt to be asked to do the honours in Switzerland, and also what the future holds for Viking as it continues to rapidly expand both its river and ocean cruise businesses.
What was it like being asked to be godmother?
It is such an honour, particularly because my fellow godmothers and I were all chosen because of our personal contribution to the success of Viking. Having worked with Viking since it opened its own office in the UK, this meant a lot to me. One of the highlights was meeting the crew on my ship, Viking Sigrun, at the naming ceremony. I had not fully appreciated the special relationship the godmother has with the crew of their ship before – it is like a family.
What are Viking’s expansion plans?
We revolutionised the industry with the introduction of our signature Longships in 2012 and we are continuing to expand with the launch of six new Longships this year, bringing our total river fleet to 79. These ships have 20 per cent more staterooms than other river cruise lines and offer three decks, which gives guests much more space. We are also launching a new ship which has been specifically designed for the Douro – which is one of our most popular itineraries.
Can you tell us about the new ships that you have on order?
We have six ocean ships currently under construction. Our chairman, Torstein Hagen, recently announced that we will be launching seven new river ships in 2020, including two new Viking Longships, four new ships designed for the Seine and one new ship for the Nile. When Viking introduces Viking Osiris in 2020, we will become the first Western company to own and operate a newly built ship on the Nile. It is one of our most popular destinations and nearly fully booked until the end of 2020.
Where do you think river cruise is going and how does this fit in with your plans?
Viking does not try to be everything to everyone – we focus on offering culturally enriching and immersive destination experiences and exceptional levels of service. Our product and our destination and on-board experiences are designed with our core target audience in mind – curious travellers aged 55 plus with interests in history, art, culture, food and wine. Of course, we will continue to grow our market share among this demographic and to attract those who are new to cruise. For example, our research shows that guests who would not normally consider a cruise but who love city breaks are realising that cruises are a comfortable and practical way to do a series of city breaks in one holiday. Having said that, I am also really pleased that the word is also spreading among younger generations.
Which destinations will you be focusing on in the future?
All of our ocean itineraries are designed to maximise the amount of time travellers spend in their destination. Alaska is new for 2019 and has been extremely popular with the UK market, as well as our In Search of the Northern Lights itinerary. On river we are offering guests even more choice and extending our current itineraries – for example, in China guests can choose between Imperial Jewels of China, which is a two-week journey, and China Undiscovered, which is 19 days and includes a visit to the panda base in Chengdu. Due to ever increasing demand in Europe we have also introduced two new itineraries to the UK market for the 2019 season – A Tale of Three Rivers and the Rhine & Moselle Discovery. We are always looking at ways to improve even our most popular itineraries.