The move will mean that there will be no Viking cruises operating in the next six weeks once current cruises are completed or stopped. On the rivers, there are currently just two cruises scheduled: Berlin to Prague and Paris to Prague.
Those booked on Viking cruises will be offered their money back or a 125% voucher for the value of their cruise to be used in the next two years.
“This is a decision we made with a heavy heart, but with present circumstances what they are, we are unable to deliver the high-quality Viking experience for which we are known” says Mr Hagen.
Mr Hagen’s line carried 500,000 passengers a year and has 10,000 employees.
It is not yet clear what happens to Viking ocean cruise passengers once they land, given some may now not be able to fly back to the United States from European destinations.
The announcement, the first of its kind by any cruise line, effectively ties up six ocean ships and 70 river ships in Europe, Asia and America.
Mr Hagen wrote:
Dear Viking Guests,
Since we started Viking nearly 23 years ago, we have always cared first and foremost about our guests and our employees. I feel we have become one large Viking family of 500,000 guests each year and 10,000 employees. Since day one, it has been our mission to create experiences for our guests that focus on the destination and allow them to explore the world in comfort. This has always been Viking’s ambition and will remain so.
I am sure you recognize that COVID-19 has made travel exceedingly complicated. An increasing number of ports, including Venice, Monte Carlo and Bergen, have temporarily closed to cruise ships; major attractions such as the Vatican and other museums have been closed; and some countries are imposing restrictions on public gatherings and visitors.
In recent days we have had an experience where a river cruise guest in Southeast Asia was exposed to COVID-19 while in transit on an international airline. While this guest is not exhibiting symptoms, she has been placed in quarantine. Separately, the remaining 28 guests will also be quarantined.
I am writing today because the situation has now become such that operating as a travel company involves significant risks of quarantines or medical detentions, which could diminish the travel experiences for which our guests have been planning. As a private company with strong finances, we do not have to worry about quarterly profit expectations – and that flexibility allows us the ability to do what is best for our guests and our employees, as we have always done.
Therefore, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend operations of our river and ocean vessels embarking from 12 March to 30 April 2020 – at which time we believe Viking will be in a better place to provide the experiences our guests expect and deserve. This is a decision we made with a heavy heart, but with present circumstances what they are, we are unable to deliver the high-quality Viking experience for which we are known.
For those guests whose cruise falls within this window of suspended operations, we are offering the choice of a Future Cruise Voucher valued at 125% of all monies paid to Viking or a refund equal to the amount paid. Guests will have 24 months to use their Future Cruise Voucher to make a new reservation on any river, ocean or expedition cruise. For additional flexibility, if you are unable to use your voucher, we will automatically send you a refund equal to the original amount paid to Viking after the voucher expires. These Future Cruise Vouchers will also be fully transferable.
Rest assured, our reservations team is currently in the process of issuing Future Cruise Vouchers of 125% of all monies paid to Viking. However, if you would prefer the alternative please call Viking on 138 747 (AU) | 0800 447 913 (NZ) or contact your Travel Agent by 25 March 2020.
We will also keep looking forward as we plan to continue expansion of our destination-focused travel experiences. In addition to our many award-winning river and ocean cruises, in early 2022 we will launch our expedition journeys to the Arctic and Antarctica, as well as North America’s Great Lakes. And, at the beginning of April 2020, we will announce our newest river voyages closer to home, in America’s heartland.
We will stand by our guests, employees and partners in these challenging times and hope that they in turn will stand by us.