Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Hurtigruten sailing out of trouble

source: Views and News from Norway

Norway’s passenger shipping line Hurtigruten hasn’t only sailed through a sea of financial trouble in recent years. Now it’s setting records in the winter off-season and charting a new course in Arctic areas.

The Norwegian shipping line with its unique vessels that combine cruising, ferry- and cargo service has seen winter bookings jump 32 percent this year, reports newspaper Nordlys. Over the past four years, the number of passenger overnight stays has more than doubled.

It’s clear that Hurtigruten’s marketing strategy to attract tourists during the winter has been a success. The shipping line has made the prospect of seeing the Northern Lights or experiencing sheer winter darkness as enticing as the Midnight Sun in the summer.

“For many, seeing the Northern Lights (nordlyset, or aurora borealis) is nearly a religious experience,” Aud Ræstad, cruise director on board the Hurtigruten ship Polarlys told Nordlys. “Tears stream down their faces, and those who manage to take pictures of the Northern Lights are overjoyed.”

Confirmed reservations for sailings in January, February and March this year are up 32 percent over the same months in 2010. The biggest increase has occurred among German tourists, followed by the British, French and Dutch. Hurtigruten earlier has reported strong increases in tourists from China as well, while the US market has traditionally been among the line’s most important.

Last fall’s re-negotiation of a contract with the state to ensure transportation service along remote stretches of the coast was critical in securing Hurtigruten’s finances. Chief executive Olav Fjell recently told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that now the shipping line can build upon it, and he’s already eyeing new routes in the Arctic.

Fjell says it’s not unthinkable to someday offer cruises beyond Greenland, for example, and into the Northwest Passage and Arctic areas recently explored by Norwegian adventurer Børge Ousland. “That type of cruise is in huge demand,” Fjell told DN.

Hurtigruten already offers cruises to Svalbard, Greenland and from South America to Antarctica, in addition to its coastal cruising from Bergen to Kirkenes in northern Norway and its special cruises in the Baltic and Mediterranean.

The company has around 2,400 employees and annual revenues of around NOK 4 billion. It reported a 10.3 percent increase in operating profits for last year’s third quarter but a pre-tax loss of NOK 118 million tied to a lack of gains on currency exchange, reported DN.