The national Mississippi River cruise season kicked off early Sunday morning, as the new American Melody docked in downtown Davenport for the first time.
The 175-capacity ship spent six hours in Davenport, and will next return July 4 in its 8-day itinerary from St. Louis to St. Paul. American Melody (of American Cruise Lines) and the even more hotly anticipated Viking Cruise Lines – with a 386-person capacity in its new Mississippi River cruise – are among 50-plus cruise stops to visit the Quad Cities through early November.
That is music to the ears of Dave Herrell, president/CEO of Visit Quad Cities, who said Monday the cruise industry is growing here, compared to 30-some journeys from national lines who docked in the QC last year.
“We’ve been very fortunate that American Cruise Lines and American Queen have been connected to the Quad Cities for a long time,” he said Monday. “With the advent of knowing it’s a transition of the pandemic and knowing that Viking’s coming online and all these things — it’s creating some increased demand in the marketplace and a lot of people wanting to connect with the Mississippi River.”
The well-known global Viking brand is launching Mississippi River cruises of two weeks (the entire length of the river) or eight days (St. Louis to St. Paul), that each will stop in Davenport. The first docking here will be Aug. 16 and most Viking stops will be 12.5 hours (7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.) or 15 hours (to 10 p.m.).
The American Queen Voyages will make its first stop in the QC on Friday, July 15, when the American Countess docks at the Isle Casino in Bettendorf. The American Countess also docked in the QC for the first time last year.
“With the Melody, it’s such a cool product line and with Viking — just having that newness and we’re going to launch this thing and we’ve been talking about it for years, and now it’s going to come to fruition,” Herrell said Monday. “I’m really intrigued just to see these tours take hold.”
Specifically designed to navigate the Mississippi River, American Melody features panoramic views throughout, including a four-story glass atrium in the center of the ship.
Since they don’t include overnight stays, the QC economic benefit of the cruise ships are not hotel/motel tax revenue, but tourism activities visitors will spend money on and the potential to lure them back for longer stays, Herrell said.
“Ultimately, what we want to try to do is get them to come back,” he said. “That’ll be the fun part of when we do get to that engagement with them and how we take advantage of it.”
Both American Melody ($4,615 or $5,115 per person) and Viking’s Mississippi cruise (from $4,800 for 8 days and $13,000 for 15 days) have seen robust sales, Herrell said. In fact, Viking has sold out the Mississippi River cruises already through 2023.
“I think it’s the fact that people can get back out there. I also think with the pandemic upending a lot of things, a lot of people might have saved their money and now we’re thinking through — what is that vacation and trip look like?”
“There’s a lot of people out there that are like, you know what, I’ve always wanted to try to do this,” Herrell said of cruises, adding Viking is more affordable here than a European trip.
Viking’s overseas cruises include the Danube, Rhine, Elbe, France, Portugal, Egypt and Asia.
Potential future customers
Just looking at hotel tax revenue as a way to visitor impacts is a “very myopic way to perceive the value of what these organizations bring to the table,” Herrell said. “Because they are going to be bringing hundreds of people into our community and those customers are potential customers for us in the long run.
“When they get here, what is that relationship? What is that first impression? You’re going to have a lot of people that have never laid a set of eyes on the Quad Cities,” he said.
“That first impression that customer has, if we can do that, and then while they’re out there doing these tours and they’re getting a feel for the market – if they have a great day of a great experiences during their time, I think that’s going to give us higher propensity for us to bring them back.”
Nationally, the QC area doesn’t really have a negative or positive perception among the public, since the region is little-known across the country, Herrell said.
“Unless you’re doing things to try to grab people, then you’re never going to get that chance to maybe get them to come back,” he said. “Let’s get as many bodies into the Quad Cities as we can, because that could be a conversion, it could turn into a potential investor thinking, ‘I saw a killer building in one of the downtowns of the Quad Cities.’
“Or, you know what? I’ve always heard of this place and I had this amazing time, and I’m thinking about relocating to the Midwest and want to try to find a place that I can afford,” Herrell said.
Given that Viking is well-known internationally, it also helps Visit Quad Cities market the area internationally, where it doesn’t have that ability.
“We don’t have the financial resources and the capacity to market and advertise the Quad Cities or any one of our communities around the world,” Herrell said. “So Viking allows us to leverage their marketing and promotional platform, which does have global reach.”
“We’re proud of that because we want to be able to generate as many impressions as we possibly can about the Quad Cities,” he said. “Viking allows us the chance just to get out there and maybe connect with an audience that we’ve never connected with before.”
Visit Quad Cities also is working with its counterparts in Burlington and Dubuque (other Viking stops) to promote the new cruises, as well as Illinois QC attractions to ensure visitors are aware of the QC as a whole, Herrell said.
“We should continue to invest in riverfront development. We need to continue to invest in things that are going to make the Mississippi River experience the best, because we know that the more time we do that, the better off we’re going to be in terms of engaging with these customers,” he said.