In terms of the next step for river cruising, “You can approach that from a destination standpoint and you can do that from a customer experience standpoint. From a customer experience standpoint, I think that there’s going to be a continuing focus on the destination and providing best in class enrichment associated with the destination and that’s sort of a core focus of ours. In addition to that, I think it’s going to be choice and when I say choice, you know our passengers have become accustomed to doing things how they choose to do it.”
Which is why, Marnell says, Viking offers its passengers a choice of excursion styles, giving them the option of three different categories of excursion where one is highly immersive but takes considerably longer; one is slower paced for those who have difficulty walking, and then a third is merely the highlights to give passengers as much free time to do whatever they choose to do.
To enhance that choice theme, Marnell says, “We’re having a concierge on board for 2012, an individual who is going to be there to guide you should you want to skip the included excursion or skip the excursion meal that’s included or, if you want to do something special at night. Whatever it may be—take in a show, take in a concert, have a fabulous optional dining experience. One of the other things we’ve plugged into is a program called, ‘The world’s most fabulous spas and gyms.’ We are of the mindset that converting a cabin into a spa or a gym is completely sub-par. Our adage is, ‘If you can’t do something well, don’t do it at all.’ So what we’ve done for 2012 is we’ve partnered with fantastic spas and gyms all along the roads of our journeys. In Budapest, for example, we’re docked at the Chain Bridge, which is just steps from the Four Seasons and they have a fantastic spa and gym.”
Still another addition for 2012, Viking is adding on all of its itineraries an opportunity for alfresco dining experiences, which they’re combining with a music experience in which they bring on local musicians, typically in the folk genre, with lunch or an early dinner on the sundeck.
The company is, in fact, bringing that concept into its hardware design, Marnell says. “We designed our long ships with that capability with the Aqua Vite Terrace in the bow of the boat. So you have the ability when you’re on board to essentially have the capability of having a cafe-style lunch or dinner while sailing or in port in an alfresco setting. It’s something most people love, being able to sit down and have a drink and a bite to eat in an outdoor environment.”
And, while Marnell concedes that although Viking has continued to convince more and more people that river cruising is wonderful, “We do recognize that even with the considerable marketing we do, there is still a misconception about what river cruising is and that Viking is the leader.”
To improve on that, Viking has found that the best way to communicate river cruising is through video, but not just on the Internet where it requires people to have a preconceived notion to seek out and arrive at their website. Instead, they’ve started a TV campaign targeting those people who are looking for a more enriching cruising experience and those people who are anti-cruise but are looking for destination and enrichment. To accomplish that, they’re sponsoring “Masterpiece Theater.”
“We did a survey of our passengers and found that many of them have watched [that show] and we signed a partnership with them and it’s resonating very well with our perspective and past passengers,” he says.