Meet the Norwegian-owned cruise challenger to Carnival and Royal Caribbean that just raised $1.54 billion

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The now-listed cruise company was once just a venture by “two guys with two mobile phones and four river ships,” as the company’s CEO Torstein Hagen puts it in Viking’s prospectus.

But a lot has changed in 27 years. Now, the Norwegian-owned, Bermuda-based business has a staff of 10,000 catering to guests with a taste for the finer things in life. 

The cruise operator, which made its name in European river tours, launched its initial public offering at the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday. It raised $1.54 billion, according to Reuters, making it the biggest listing in the U.S. this year. 

Viking rebounded strongly after the COVID-19 pandemic decimated cruise travel and its public listing comes as luxury consumers are spending more on travel and personalization, and less on shopping. Some of Viking’s competitors, such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean, have seen record demand for cruises—opening a world of opportunity for the smaller company.    

Viking’s beginning

Viking was founded in 1997 by Hagen, who controls most of the company with his daughter, Karine Hagen.

From the start it aimed to give travelers an immersive experience in local cultures as they toured in one of its four river vessels. In the last three decades or so, Viking has expanded its fleet to 92 ships offering three types of experiences via rivers, oceans and expeditions.

The company has also benefited from some savvy marketing plays—it sponsored Masterpiece and Downton Abbey and offered themed trips linked to those shows. 

Between 2015 and 2023, Viking’s revenue grew at a compound annual rate of 14.4%, outpacing the rest of the cruise industry in the river and luxury ocean segments during this period, the company said in a public filing.

Viking has carved its strategic niche among older, well-off customers, a group it believes is “underserved.” These are not boozy party boats, and there are no kids allowed. 

“Our target demographic has greater financial stability, which can make them more resilient to economic conditions and more willing to invest in high-quality travel experiences,” Viking said. 

And that’s the space it hopes it can dominate, with the help of its IPO funds.

The Viking founder and road ahead

Hagen didn’t enter the world of cruises till the 1970s. 

A physics major in school, Hagen did his MBA at Harvard University before entering management consulting. He dabbled with entrepreneurship a few times before finally succeeding, Bloomberg reported.

When business for Viking’s river cruises, its first service, began to pick up, Hagen expanded to offer journeys worldwide—from expeditions in Antarctica to river cruises in Vietnam. 

Viking is on an expedition of its own now that its shares are traded. Last year, the cruise line hosted close to 650,000 guests and generated $4.7 billion in revenue, up by almost 50% from 2022. Its underlying profits were $1.1 billion for the same period, according to Viking’s prospectus.

The cruise company is still much smaller than rivals like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. But it’s a global leader in some segments, such as luxury ocean cruises. 

Following a strong open, Viking’s market valuation is over $10 billion, putting Hagen’s wealth at $5 billion.
As the appetite for luxury travel builds, Viking is ready to ride the wave.