It’s difficult to believe possible after a successful 2015 Carnival season, but America’s great river is going to be even more fun in the future.
Viking River Cruises, a major provider of high-end river cruises on other continents, will make New Orleans the home port for its first North American itineraries.
In 2017, the European company plans to launch two new specially built riverboats from docks near the French Quarter. Plans call for building four more vessels in the first three years, at a price tag of up to $100 million apiece.
The cruises will take travelers to stops in St. James, East Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes before continuing upriver to Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis; or St. Paul, Minnesota, depending on the season.
This adds to the existing riverboat tourism on the Mississippi. American Cruise Lines announced recently that American Eagle will begin river cruises between New Orleans and Memphis. The Queen of the Mississippi has been sailing out of New Orleans since 2012.
Gov. Bobby Jindal was quite right to applaud new jobs in the Crescent City’s hospitality industry, but the two companies represent a healthy addition to visitor traffic upriver, including new visitors to Louisiana’s historic plantation sites and downtown Baton Rouge. Visit Baton Rouge officials said there are 84 dockings anticipated this year from riverboats, even before Viking’s arrival on the scene.
Viking is a company with a big European trade and its decision to expand in New Orleans means that the Mississippi cruises are likely to draw even more international visitors.
Those, as the governor noted, tend to be high-end tourists, bringing in new money for all the sites and cities they visit.
In 2012, a study commissioned by the Port of New Orleans reported that passengers on cruise ships based in the city stay an average of 1.8 nights in local hotels before or after their voyage, contributing $27.9 million annually in direct spending on lodging, food and other expenses.
Jindal said he met with Viking Cruises Chairman Torstein Hagen at the company’s headquarters in Switzerland last month during an economic-development trip to Europe.
The company will get state incentives, including a $4.5 million grant for site work, but Jindal and other officials said it is worth the deal. That’s not only true in New Orleans, too: “It will have a significant economic impact in West Feliciana,” Parish President Kevin Couhig said, calling it “a welcome tourism opportunity.”
It’s also important that the upriver cities and towns take a look at their attractions and the readiness of local businesses to handle new visitors.
That’s hardly necessary in New Orleans, of course, but despite the success of other riverboats in the years since the recession’s grip eased, the tourism business is one that depends on not only historic attractions like a plantation home or the Old State Capitol, but a stern focus on customer experiences.
They are our guests and we should be looking to show them a good time as they experience the beauty and mystery of the Mississippi.