Five years ago the cruise ports in Northern Norway and Svalbard made an important decision by agreeing to form a regional cruise network. By joining forces, they aimed to strengthen the individual ports. Cruise North has chatted with two of the people behind the creation of Cruise Northern Norway & Svalbard, Harriet Willassen (Port of Tromsø) and Åse-Lill Barstad (Visit North Cape).
CRUISE NORTH MAGAZINE: Erik Joachimsen
Both ports have more than 100 calls per year. Nearly 120,000 cruise guests arrive every summer and slowly but surely a few in the winter too. However, it’s still the case that only 15% of cruise traffic to Norway – and just one percent of the total European cruise traffic – sails up to Northern Norway and Svalbard.
It’s not really an exaggeration to say that the cruise industry has not quite discovered Northern Norway and Svalbard yet. In recent years there has been major focus on opportunities for turnaround ports in the north, where major airports with good capacity and adjacent ports play a key role. What will it take to gain market share? “The trend is towards increasingly shorter cruises and, on the face of it, this is a disadvantage for a region that requires a long voyage to reach. But if we manage to turn this disadvantage into an advantage, for example by facilitating turnaround operations in Northern Norway, then opportunities that weren’t even dreamed of a few years ago will immediately open up,” say Willassen and Barstad in agreement. “By exploiting the time when passengers are being moved between cruise ships and aircraft, we can offer shore excursions in summer as well as winter. There is an abundance of opportunities to arrange overland trips by bus. This is something we hope the cruise lines will take advantage of in the future because we are convinced that this is a sensible way to go. Shorter cruises and even greater experiences is a win-win situation for the cruise line and the passenger.”
The proportion shorex sales aboard the cruise ships have dropped and this has provided a challenge for some of the biggest destinations. The number of passengers is increasing and more passengers are going on tours. However, as a percentage of the number on board, sales are declining. How do you explain this decline in onboard sales, and what can the destinations do to meet this challenge? “It has become cheaper to go on cruises and this attracts less affluent groups. Meanwhile, passengers are far more enlightened about existing offers than was the case earlier, but the economic development in key target markets has weakened. In order to meet this competition, it’s a sensible strategy to get cruise lines, agents and destinations to cooperate more closely so they can offer packages that are not available for purchase in the same combinations elsewhere.”
Shorter cruises and even greater experiences is a win-win situation for the cruise line and the passenger.
The cruise lines and agents are looking for innovative shorex offers that differentiate the ports. Holland America Line, for instance, has stated that the shorex offers at the ports are too similar. What is CNNS doing to address this? “CNNS has had a project aimed at developing new and better shorex offers, and we are now starting to see the results of this. Our destinations are presenting new ways of thinking about shorex and we have also become more conscious of being innovative. Providers who don’t renew themselves risk being left behind. It’s important that the cruise lines and agents offer these new shorexes on board so that we get sales. Perhaps this is the biggest challenge we face.”
At the start of the 2015 season we are experiencing a dramatic fall in oil prices, which may only be short-lived. The Norwegian Krone (NOK) has also weakened significantly against the Euro and Dollar. This must have a positive effect on the traffic to the “high-cost country” Norway, while the fuel argument is also weakened slightly in relation to long sailing distances. “Generally speaking, this is good news for the Norwegian travel industry, for the cruise lines and not least for the cruise passenger. Norway has traditionally been considered a high-cost country, but if we gaze to competing countries it’s fair to say that these differences have evened out significantly in recent times.”
In 2014 Northern Norway and Spitsbergen (Svalbard) managed for the first time to take market share in Norway. The northern cruise region increased traffic by 6%, while Norway as a whole experienced a decline of 10%. How would you explain these numbers, and what can be done to sustain this growth? “What we are seeing is possibly a levelling out of the traffic in parts of Southern Norway. The growth in the south has been strong in recent years, while our region has experienced steady growth. Northern Norway has experienced great success with winter cruise and this is clearly reflected in the statistics. In addition, Northern Norway has a number of unique qualities that you won’t find elsewhere in the world …”
What are such unique selling points for Northern Norway & Spitsbergen? Norway is marketed under the slogan “Powered by Nature” and the further north you travel the more you experience this. The entire region offers a wide variety of opportunities for physical activity to challenge all your senses.”
For many, it comes as a real surprise to discover how mild the climate is considering how far north it is. The Gulf Stream gives us ice-free ports and really quite pleasant temperatures when we compare ourselves with other destinations at the same latitude. “Yes that’s true and we are also blessed with some natural phenomena that no one can match – the Northern lights and the Midnight Sun. In addition, the region is also far more inhabited than many people imagine. Most of the region is sparsely populated, and our region is one of the few on earth where it’s still possible to experience nothing. There are not too many places left where urbanites can experience that. Nothing. Complete silence and nothing to see apart from beautiful scenery. We can also offer an exciting combination of urban and wilderness. Northern Norway and Svalbard is genuinely Powered by Nature!
The two ports you represent attract 55% of the traffic to Northern Norway and Svalbard? Secretly, should you wish that this proportion was slightly lower to the advantage of the many small cruise ports in the north? “Yes and no. It would be beneficial for the largest ports if the calls were spread over several days. But we would prefer that the overall traffic to Northern Norway and Svalbard increases, and that to the greatest extent possible this increase goes to the many smaller ports we have in the north. Unfortunately, many of the cruise ships are too big for the smallest ports, but we would like to see medium-sized and smaller cruise ships calling at ports which they have not traditionally used. Seven ports have fewer than 30 calls a year, and among these we find many hidden treasures. The small ports must be allowed to be small and offer their unique experiences. CNNS has worked quite consciously to ensure that each port differentiates itself through its history, culture and industry. That’s how we can demonstrate our diversity. We also have a strong desire that more cruise ships will call at all the ports in the evening and overnight. In a region where we have daylight from May to August, you don’t need to think 9 to 5 when you’re planning your itineraries …”
In 2015 Costa will sail with Costa neoRomantica to Lofoten, a voyage she has made many times before. The cruise ship will then call at Bodø, Narvik and Sortland (Vesterålen), all of which are ports located within a compact area and which Costa has not called at previously. This provides good opportunities for slow cruising with ample time for the passengers and low fuel costs for the cruise line. A win-win situation like this must be good news, especially considering that all seven cruises are sold out? “Absolutely, and this is at the very core of our objective when CNNS was
Northern Norway and Svalbard is genuinely Powered by Nature!
established in 2011. Several ports now get opportunities to present unique and exotic experiences. Bodø has an exciting history from The Cold War, Narvik was the scene of important events during World War II and Sortland wants to profile itself on the marine life and fishing and aquaculture industries. Everyone’s heard of Norwegian salmon. Cruise passengers now have the opportunity to experience modern salmon farming. We believe what Costa is doing in 2015 is a smart solution this will surely be copied by other cruise lines.
The cruise lines are looking for new destinations. Are Murmansk and Arkhangelsk attractive enough? After all, such destinations would lead to increased cruise traffic along the Norwegian coast since all the cruise ships must sail past our beautiful coast to get there? “Yes, both destinations are exciting, as are the opportunities in the White Sea. Russia is an exciting country, which we as neighbours really know too little about. In addition, it will be exciting for cruise passengers to experience the Solovetsky Islands, which certainly represents a once-in-a-lifetime experience. CNNS has taken the initiative to organise a FAM trip to Arkhangelsk, which this serves as a signal to the cruise lines that this alternative is something that they should consider. When you combine this with the turnaround operations in Northern Norway, it offers a completely a new and exotic opportunity for cruising.”
Four years have now passed since CNNS was established. Are you satisfied with what has been achieved so far? “We believe that the cooperation within CNNS has shown results within a relatively short space of time. Northern Norway & Svalbard has emerged as a cruise region and is now in a stronger position in terms of both products and market. Our members are working to make each other better, and we have a common channel for reaching out to industry. Cooperation with Cruise Norway is also important for us. Norway’s spearhead does a solid job, which we support actively. We believe it’s right to focus on regions and not just on destinations. The most important thing is that the unique history, culture and industry of our region is communicated better, and that the cruise lines get the differentiated shorex offers they have expressed a desire for.”