On Tuesday, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Viking Cruises Chairman Torstein Hagen 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 create an estimated 416 new direct jobs for Louisiana-based operations and vessel crews, with an average salary of $40,000 plus benefits. Louisiana Economic Development (LED) estimates the project will also result in 368 new indirect jobs, for a total of more than 780 new jobs.
In January, 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. The passenger vessels will be built in U.S. shipyards and crewed by U.S. citizens.
The vessels will be owned by Tennenbaum Capital Partners, a Los Angeles-based alternative investment management firm, and time-chartered to Viking in full compliance with maritime laws.
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 along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to three stops in Louisiana before continuing upriver to Memphis, Tenn., St. Louis, or St. Paul, Minn. The specialty-built riverboats will host up to 300 passengers at approximately 10% the size of oceangoing cruise vessels. Viking’s cruises are renowned for their locally oriented educational and entertainment programs.
“We are excited about the prospect of bringing modern river-cruising to the Mississippi, a river that has been traveled by explorers for centuries,” Hagen said in a statement. “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.”
LED began discussing expansion possibilities with Viking 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 receive the customized solutions of the state workforce development program, LED FastStart, which will include partnerships with the Louisiana Workforce Commission and local educational institutions.
Competition on the rivers is keen. Three years ago, American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Co. returned overnight cruising to the inland rivers. Also, the historic steamboat Delta Queen was purchased last week by investors and plans to begin cruising in 2016.