Hurtigruten is looking to shake off its ‘cruise’ image and instead become the world’s leading exploration company.
BY JANE ARCHER
With a new owner, a fresh UK management team and a stated ambition to become the world’s leading exploration company within five years, these are exciting times for Hurtigruten, the company that operates working ships along the coast of Norway.
And as if all that was not enough to be getting on with, it has also acquired a new ship, MS Spitsbergen and is investing in a makeover for four of its vessels next year.
The new owner is British investment firm TDR Capital, which acquired a 90% stake in the business in autumn last year (the remaining 10% is owned by Silk Bidco, a joint-venture company set up by Norwegian investors Trygve Hegnar and Petter Stordalen).
The new UK management team is headed by managing director UK Magnus Zetterberg, a Swedish American who joined the company at the end of September from software company Travelaer.
Reporting to him are Anthony Daniels, formerly with Reader Offers and Norwegian Cruise Line, who joined in August as head of sales UK and Ireland, and Richard Adams, who was appointed head of marketing in July. He was previously with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines and coach touring operator Collette.
“It is a new team, which fits the way the company is going, namely to be the number one exploration company in the world in five years,” said Daniels.
Details of how that will be achieved are under wraps until an announcement before the end of the year but Daniels said its ships would be visiting new destinations that fitted with its exploration-style ethos. He said: “We have to give past passengers opportunities to visit new places or we lose them.”
Daniels admitted that before he joined Hurtigruten he knew it only for its voyages along the coast of Norway. These depart from Bergen every day of the year, sailing north to Kirkenes on the border with Russia before heading back south to Bergen. Along the way, the ships call at 34 ports, where they pick up freight, and car and foot passengers.
At each stop also, passengers sailing the 12-day Classic Round Voyage or sailing one way north from Bergen to Kirkenes or south from Kirkenes to Bergen can join a variety of optional excursions. In summer they might go kayaking or horse-back riding. In winter there are snowmobiling safaris and whale-watching trips.
However, while the coastal voyage is Hurtigruten’s core business (and has been for more than 120 years), the company does have another string to its bow, namely cruises in Antarctica in winter and to Greenland, Spitsbergen and Iceland in summer on expedition ship Fram.
New for winter 2016, Fram will be joined in Antarctica by Midnatsol, which is sailing to the White Continent from Punta Arenas in Chile. It will carry 500 passengers and offer a softer style of adventure, with on-board activities including film and photography workshops, wine-tasting sessions, barbecues and a Young Explorer programme for teenagers. It is the first time the company has offered a specific product to attract families.
Daniels said: “Hurtigruten is known for its Northern Lights voyages in winter but people do not know about the exploration side and we are also weak in the UK in summer, even though that is the best time to go. The problem is that clients can cruise to Norway in summer from Southampton or Dover on traditional ships a lot cheaper than coming with us.
“But we need both agents and consumers to understand we offer a very different experience. We are an exploration and adventure company, not a cruise line, and we want to attract passengers who are looking for an experience He said that just happens to be on a ship. We also want younger passengers [the average age now in the late 50s], the type of people who go on ski holidays. They fit perfectly for our brand.”
Daniels is also keen to attract clients through special-interest groups (groups specialist UK and Ireland Emma Coombs is talking to the likes of Tesco Club Card and Oxford and Cambridge alumni) and creating more themed cruises such as the company’s high-successful astronomy voyages. igruten started with one a few years ago and will have five departures in 2016, all accompanied by astronomy experts Dr John Mason or Ian Ridpath.
Daniels said: “The UK is the third source market for Hurtigruten behind Germany and Scandinavia so we are doing well, but we want to do better.”
A very appropriate name
Hurtigruten’s founder Richard With started exploration tourism in the Arctic in Spitsbergen in 1896, so it is fitting that the island, the largest in the Svalbard archipelago, is giving its name to the company’s new ship.
Built in Portugal in 2009, the 320-passenger ship has never been used so it is technically brand new. It is now in the Fosen shipyard in Norway, where it is being refitted to Hurtigruten standards, and will enter service on the Norwegian coastal voyage in May 2016, but in future is expected to offer expedition cruises in the polar regions.
As well as the new ship, Hurtigruten’s new owners are spending millions of Norwegian krone upgrading four existing ships – MS Polarlys, MS Kong Harald, MS Nordkapp and MS Nordnorge next year.
Details of the makeovers are under wraps but UK head of sales Anthony Daniels said they will each have an onboard expedition team to guide more adventurous excursions on the Norwegian coastal voyage when they return to service. “We are taking the product upmarket,” he added.