WOMEN OF INFLUENCE
We speak to Michelle Black of Viking Cruises and polar explorer, Sunniva Sorby
Michelle Black counts herself lucky to work in travel. Growing up, her father worked as a Qantas engineer and family holidays involved exploring the world at a time when this wasn’t the norm. Having spent the last 30 years of her career in marketing and sales, dipping in and out of the travel industry, Michelle is now at the helm of one of the most dynamic river and ocean cruise lines as the Managing Director, Australia & New Zealand, of Viking Cruises.
“To be able to work in an industry that is about helping people fulfil dreams, create lifelong memories and achieve personal growth … it doesn’t get much better than that,” she muses, hinting at what drew her to this career.
With a portfolio of ships on the rivers and at sea, Viking has made its name by focusing on personal enrichment and engaging with each destination, all in sleek, design-driven surrounds.
Constant expansion is the only way Viking can keep up with the demand for its sophisticated style and service. By the end of next year, it will lay claim to the world’s largest fleet of river ships, with 69 vessels in Europe, Egypt and Asia.
Luxury by nature, not by name
While Viking has been a dominant force in river cruising for the last 20 years, its foray into ocean cruising began more recently in 2015. With five 930-passenger ships, and another arriving in 2019, Viking is on track to become the largest small-ship cruise operator next year.
Viking does not promote its adultsonly ships as ‘luxury’, but their design and high-quality finishes, inspired by Scandinavian chic, has won the cruise line favour among sophisticated guests.
“We make sure there’s plenty of space and lots of beautiful furnishings, natural light and homey touches,” says Michelle. “It’s a priority for us that our guests always feel truly welcomed and at ease. For our returning guests, it feels like they’re coming home.”
“We call ourselves the ‘Thinking Person’s Cruise Line’,” she continues. “We have visiting guest lecturers ... We also have a Resident Viking Historian.”
The line’s latest addition, Viking Orion, is a perfect example of this focus. Her ceremonial godmother is Dr Anna Fisher – “American chemist, emergency room physician and retired NASA astronaut” – and there’s a celestial theme to her facilities: “She will have a planetariumlike theatre, an ‘Explorations in Space’ exhibit produced by NASA, and a Viking Resident Astronomer who will sail with the ship during her maiden season.”
Although Scandinavia and Northern Europe remain the hottest destinations for Viking’s Australian and New Zealand travellers, Michelle tells us that it is a more unusual route – the North Pacific Passage, from Tokyo to Vancouver – that has been most popular in the market.
Michelle’s recommendation? The 2019/2020 Viking Ultimate World Cruise aboard Viking Sun: “At 245 days, it conducts a full circumnavigation of the globe from London to London and is the longest-ever continuous world cruise.”
01 The Explorers Lounge aboard Viking Star 02 Viking focuses on personal enrichment 03 An infinity pool on the rear deck is one of Viking Star’s standout features. All images © Viking Cruises 01