Traditional cruise seasons in Northern Europe are changing and bringing about a breakthrough for winter cruising to Norway, the final panel session of the Seatrade Europe 2013 conference concluded.
(Originally published by Seatrade Insider / editor Mary Bond, with permission to publish at CNNS.no)
Wenche Nygård Eeg, managing director of Cruise Norway, said that Norway was dynamically turning into a year-round destination with a rapidly increasing number of calls in the off-season.
The first winter cruise to Norway took place in 2009 with a visit of Saga responding to a targetted marketing initiative of Cruise Norway.
Calls between January and March have regularly taken place since, led in the main by UK-based operators. German cruise lines have also started calling bringing the number of calls to over 50 next year, a considerable increase over 2013.
Even more significantly, calls in November and December are going to pick up in 2014. While this volume is still limited compared to Norway’s total annual cruise business (about 2,000 calls), winter cruising bears great opportunities for both operators and destinations with the share of passengers booking an excursion significantly higher than in summer.
Nygård Eeg told Seatrade Insider that Port of Alta received around 4,000 passengers in February and March this year, which booked 7,000 excursions – most ships stayed in the port for two days, and a large number of guests participated in two shoreside tours. ‘It of course varies from port to port, but on average in Norway about 50% of all cruise passengers book a shore excursion in summer,’ Nygård Eeg revealed, ‘but in winter, this figure is 80%.’
She said ships calling Norway in winter were fully booked, with guests ready to pay high prices for tailored excursions centred on nature, scenery and the season. Winter tours include sleigh excursions (with sleighs pulled by reindeer, dogs or horses), Ice Hotel stays, and – a particular prime seller – searching for the Northern Lights
MSC Cruises’ corporate operating officer Neil Palomba and Javier Rodriguez Sanchez, port & ground operations manager of Pullmantur, agreed that seasonal extension was a trend but also reminded winter cruises were not equally suitable for all source markets. Palomba said guests from Germany and the UK were receptive to the product, while Italians and Spaniards wished to cruise in warmer winter climates.
Rodriguez Sanchez, said he could neither see Spanish nor French passengers going on winter cruises to Scandinavia
Palomba called on ports to introduce seasonal pricing: ‘If they are interested to have us in winter, they need to look at their fees structure substantially,’ he said. Many Norwegian ports have seasonal discounts for winter calls already in place, Nygård Eeg remarked.
The change of season patterns is also benefitting ports in continental Europe, as Gerd Drossel, md of Hamburg Cruise Center, stressed. This year’s season in Hamburg – which will see more than half a million passengers being handled – spans from January 7 to December 31. Fred Olsen’s Boudicca will spend New Year’s eve in port and depart again on January 1, 2014, ensuring next year’s season starts on the first day of the year.
Returning to Norway, Nygård Eeg revealed Cruise Norway is also trying to strengthen the country’s foothold for full and partial turnarounds. Apart from Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger, ports in the north – such as Trondheim, Evenes (Harstad/Narvik) Tromsø, Bodø and Lakselv/North Cape are suitable for turnarounds. Seven mainland airports are able to handle Boeing 737 planes. The turnaround option might become especially interesting once the 0.1% sulphur cap enters into force in ECA areas by 2015 – as northern Norway is located outside the ECA zones.
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