Viking's initial cruises on Mississippi anticipated in 2021

When Viking Cruises' riverboats begin sailing on the Mississippi River, they will have a guaranteed place to dock on the renovated Hannibal riverfront.

Hannibal first made such a commitment in April 2015 when the city council voted to provide Viking with exclusive docking rights. The council approved a ground lease agreement with the company during its Jan. 2 meeting. City Manager Jeff LaGarce said the new contract modifies the concept of "exclusive docking rights."

"Instead of exclusive docking rights, the city will provide available docking rights," he said.

Under the new agreement, one of the city's two docking ports will be reserved for Viking boats on any day that one is scheduled to dock. Hannibal other vessels will be allowed to use the port on days when Viking is not scheduled to visit.

"The port is not exclusive to Viking, but will be available to them on days needed, consistent with their request," LaGarce said. "This arrangement provides more flexibility for other users when Viking is absent, yet it still guarantees a port for Viking to dock."

In exchange for the docking port guarantee, Viking has agreed to pay a one dollar docking fee per passenger. LaGarce said while the fee may appear nominal, it will add up over the life of the agreement.

"Between July 1 and October 31 of each year, six Viking ships will make 19 excursions each, totaling some 114 port stops in Hannibal," LaGarce said. "Viking ships will carry 338 passengers each. Therefore, some 38,500 new tourists or passengers will enter Hannibal by water each summer. Over the 20-year agreement, total docking fees would exceed $750,000."

The ground lease agreement contains an option for an additional 20 years. It also allows for renegotiation of the one dollar fee in the 21st year.

The influx of new tourists will not just benefit city coffers.

"The largest beneficiaries of the Viking initiative will be Hannibal businesses," LaGarce said.

The anticipated number of Viking passengers is expected to increase by 11.6 percent the 330,000 tourists the city currently hosts each year. LaGarce said that impact will be felt during a four-month period.

"The impact during the cruise season will feel much greater, because the increase will all occur during a short, 120-day period each summer," he said.

The anticipated appearance of Viking's six boats on the Mississippi River has been stepped up. Initially it was expected to take five years for the company to get six boats sailing. However, Viking officials now say its full complement of boats could be on the river in three years.

"The best estimate for Viking's maiden voyage is 2021 or 2022," LaGarce said.