“Once everything is over people often forget quickly,” he told TravelPulse. “There will be pent-up demand, but the question now is when does it start up again?”
AmaWaterways has suspended river cruise operations until May 31 but is protecting travel agent commissions on canceled departures and paying 10 percent again when the agents’ clients rebook using future cruise credits (valued at 115 percent of the initial payments). That commitment is valued, especially since this is one of the direst situations in memory for travel.
“This is for sure one of the most severe situations we’ve ever had,” Schreiner said. “It is worse than 9/11 and worse than some of the terrorist attacks.”
For river cruising, this situation is worse than 9/11 because that attack occurred in September when most of the river cruise season was over – not at the beginning of the season like it is now.
“So, 9/11 was huge but didn’t affect European river cruising as strongly,” he said. “The most intense time for us personally was the first two weeks of March this year. Ships were ready, crews were onboard, provisions were ready” and then the virus spread across parts of Europe. The season was suspended.
“Once that was done, you at least had a clear picture ahead of you,” Schreiner said.
That doesn’t mean work is over for the time being. Schreiner is working out of his home in Westlake Village, Calif., and “right now we are busy on daily conference calls with the management team, individual calls with departments and so on. It’s very busy, and it’s getting organized, sorting through the whole thing. If we don’t cruise this entire season, we’ll make it through.”
That’s because Schreiner said AmaWaterways’ 25 ships are all paid off and funding in place will carry the company through.
“My worst-case scenario over the last 6-7 years, when our fleet became bigger, was because of such extreme low water we cannot cruise for a season,” he said. “In 2018, we had low water through the whole season. If it would get to an extreme level and we couldn’t cruise for a season, that’s why I always wanted to be as debt-free as possible. For many, many years, every penny we made went back into the company and our last 12 ships were completely paid in cash. Now everything is paid off.”
The company also is focused on its staff members. “We’re trying to maintain pretty much all our staff in our offices in Calabasas (Calif.), Dallas, Basel (Switzerland), and London,” Schreiner said. But European nations often operate differently. In Switzerland, for example, the government wants people to continue working and will pay 80 percent of the workers’ salaries, he explained.
When river cruise does rebound, it likely won’t get the same kind of fear that ocean companies are likely to face – such as being quarantined or turned away from countries. River ships are always close to land and don’t sail in international waters, so can’t be turned away from a country.
“On the river, you’re always within a country, you’re not coming from international waters,” he said. “It’s a different environment. Small-ship cruising will continue, and expedition cruising will continue. Ocean cruising may take longer, but I think it will also come back.”
Comments & Discussion
Viking Extends Suspension of Cruising Through August 31
“We were the first cruise line to announce a temporary suspension of operations. We have continued to evaluate the situation, responding accordingly,” Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen wrote in a May 28 post on the company website. “While restrictions related to COVID-19 are beginning to ease in some countries, travel remains complicated. Therefore, we have made the decision to extend our temporary suspension of operations through Aug. 31, 2020.”
The company is offering 125 percent credit to passengers booked on canceled voyages. “It is fully transferable, allowing you to gift it to someone with whom you would like to share the joys of travel. It can be applied within the next 24 months to any river, ocean or expedition cruise,” Hagen wrote. “If you are unable to use your voucher by the expiration date, simply return your expired voucher to Viking, and we will send you a refund equal to the original amount paid to Viking.”
For more details on credits and refunds, click here.
Hagen said the company is developing new safety protocols and taking care of its crew members.
“We have always had the highest standards for health and cleanliness—and are now developing additional protocols to make traveling with Viking even safer. We will be sharing more information about this very soon,” he wrote. “Also, during this time of non-operation, we are further training our crew and preparing our fleet to welcome you onboard again. Since our first announcement, many of you have expressed concern for our crew, and I want to reassure you that we are continuing to take good care of them.”
Hagen said he is seeing signs of hope in Europe. “I am delighted to note that in the past couple of weeks, hope has emerged here in Europe. In Switzerland, restaurants and shops opened two weeks ago, and I must admit it was a great treat to go to my favorite Italian restaurant the other day. Last week, I had my first day in the office – with a mask and proper distancing. It now also looks as though the local borders in Europe are starting to open up.”
Viking plans to launch the ocean ship Viking Venus Early next year and, in 2022, will welcome new expedition vessels, Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, that will sail the Arctic, Antarctic and North America’s Great Lakes, and a modern river vessel, Viking Mississippi.
Comments & Discussion
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