Baltic cruise business still booming

The Tallink ferry Baltic Princess at the wharf in Tallinn port in 2011. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)
Finnish cruise firm Finnlines and Estonian-based Tallink Silja report they served record-breaking numbers of passengers in July. Finland-based Viking Line stumbled in reaching a new record, due to problems early in the month with its flagship liner, Grace, and saw its second-ever highest passenger count in July.

Not only international cruise ships are doing brisk business on the Baltic Sea. Regional ferry firms also report that July was a very busy month for them.

Tallink Silja and Finnlines both said they had all-time record-breaking passenger numbers last month, while Viking Line had their second-best-ever month, in terms of passenger volume.

None of the ferry companies would discuss the financial impacts that July had on their bottom lines, and appeared reluctant to say whether July’s hot weather might have helped or hurt their passenger numbers.

Tallink Silja’s communications director Marika Nöjd said that people tend to travel to places when the weather at those destinations is good.

“But at the same time when there’s bad weather during the summer, people [from Finland] often want to escape their summer cottages,” she said.

Boost from Asian tourists

This year there also a notable increase in Asian tourists who crossed the Baltic on Tallink Silja’s ships, according to Nöjd.

“We’ve had plenty of customers, but really, we do every summer. In any case, it’s our peak season. July was a record-breaking month in this perspective. We had more passengers than ever before, for the sixth year in a row,” she said.

Finnlines, which traverses the Baltic and North Sea to destinations in Sweden and Germany, also saw more passengers than ever in July.

At the beginning of the year Finnlines added a new ship to its Naantali, Finland-Kapellskär, Sweden route and the firm’s marketing director Staffan Herlin said the investment has paid off.

“Of course a new ship attracts passengers, plus [the new ship] is more attractive and passenger-friendly compared to our other boats,” he said, noting that until quite recently the firm was much more freight-based than it is.

Grace’s woes

Viking Line did not fare as well as they might have this summer, due to technical problems with one of their boats.

A couple of weeks ago the ferry company announced that they served nearly one million passengers (951,010) during July, but that figure was just the second-highest passenger count in the firm’s history. The only time Viking Line had more passengers during July was in 2015.

The ferry M/S Viking Grace belonging to Finnish cruise company Viking Line. (Heikki Saukkomaa/AFP/Getty Images)
The ferry M/S Viking Grace belonging to Finnish cruise company Viking Line. (Heikki Saukkomaa/AFP/Getty Images)

Viking CEO Jan Hanses said that record would likely have been broken if the their flagship vessel Grace had not experienced technical problems which caused disruptions to her Turku-Mariehamn route in the beginning of July.

“But there was a good recovery towards the end of the month, which coincided with the warm weather,” Hanses said, who noted that the World Cup was also a likely competitor to attracting cruise customers.

Heat’s effects

None of the companies divulged specific sales figures for this summer.

Hanses said however that Viking’s passenger volumes did increase when the hot weather arrived.

“That means people like to sit on the deck. We’ve noticed that people want to sit on the stern deck and enjoy the view on boats from Turku and between Helsinki and Tallinn,” Hanses said.

Tallink Silja and Finnlines both said that onboard sales were not notably high, saying it might have been due to passengers spending much of their time on warm and sunny decks, rather than in ship shops and restaurants.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Nunavut gears up for increase in Arctic tourism, Radio Canada International

Finland: Baltic Sea helps Helsinki post record cruise season, YLE News

Iceland: Arctic tourism in the age of Instagram, Eye on the Arctic special report

Norway: Several ships being launched to feed Arctic cruise boom, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: World’s first round-the-Arctic luxury cruise could set sail in 2020, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Growing number of Swedes choose train travel over flying to reduce pollution, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska’s cruise industry just keeps getting bigger, Alaska Dispatch News

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