Before the pandemic struck, the cruise industry in the Baltic region had been growing steadily over the last few years. As previously reported by Future Cruise, the number of passengers increased by 17% in 2017 and another 9.1% in 2019.
Covid-19 brought cruise lines on their knees as governments worldwide imposed travelling restrictions, which automatically cancelled the 2020 and 2021 seasons. In the case of the Baltic Sea, cruise calls went down by 96% while passenger numbers plummeted by 99%.
As countries begin to ease their anti-Covid restrictions, industry stakeholders are investing in technologies to offer an improved experience.
In this climate of innovation, cruise marketing companies Cruise Baltic and Cruise Norway have partnered to develop Itinerary Planner, a digital calendar that enables cruise lines to check their availability, adjusting their itinerary accordingly.
Cruise Baltic director Claus Bødker and Cruise Norway managing director Inge Tangerås explain how the project came about and what it can do to help the industry have a good 2022.
From the left, Inge Tangerås (credits: Nils Olav Mevatne) and Claus Bødker (credits: Cruise Baltic).
Ilaria Grasso Macola (IGM): How and when did the project come about?
Inge Tangerås (IT): The Itinerary Planner is based on the Cruise Calendar, which was a much more simplified solution that Cruise Norway has been running for almost 10 years now.
The idea came to make a better product. It’s all about distribution; try to avoid congestion and make a better product for the cruise industry. To pull our resources together we invited Cruise Baltic to take part in the development of the Itinerary Planner. We did it in 2019, that’s when we had the kick-off.
Claus Bødker (CB): Actually, that was the first time ever two cruise associates worked together to develop a tool that makes it easier for cruise lines to [develop] their itinerary planning.
IGM: Itinerary Planner is a development of Cruise Norway’s Calendar. How did Calendar work and how does it differ from Itinerary Planner?
IT: It all had to do with providing tools to make the planning of cruises easier but now we have extended it to also include the Baltic region.
One major difference between Itinerary Planner and Cruise Calendar is that Itinerary Planner is a much more dynamic tool that makes it a lot easier for cruise lines to do dynamic planning and easily swap between the destinations during the planning process.
It’s even possible to add sea days to make sure that the planning is as smooth and efficient as possible.
CB: Basically, it helps the cruise lines if a port is occupied by other cruise vessels, as a lot of cruise vessels in the Baltic region and Norway like to be the only ship in port at a given time.
By developing Itinerary Planner, cruise lines are able to see if they’re the only ship in port at a given time or there are other ships. And that helps the cruise lines to spread their itineraries to more ports in both Norway and the Baltic sea.
IGM: The pandemic has brought the cruising industry to its knees, with almost all companies cancelling routes for 2020 and 2021. How badly impacted were Cruise Baltic and Cruise Norway?
CB: Cruise Baltic was heavily impacted because our member fee structure means that port members are paying per number of calls. And since we didn’t have any calls in 2020, it has affected us very dramatically.
The Covid-19 pandemic is not something that we will not survive, as we have some loyal port members, but we are not able to do the same kind of marketing initiatives as in a normal year.
In that sense, it has affected the industry, but most of the ports are doing quite well unless they get a large percentage of their revenue from cruising.
IGM: How will Itinerary Planner help the industry?
IT: I think the major benefit of Itinerary Planner is to contribute to a better distribution of the cruise traffic in this region.
Nobody wants to get back to the situation that we had prior to the pandemic where the industry was seeing over-tourism and congestion in some of the hotspots. In its simplicity, Itinerary Planner with its green, yellow and red signs easily shows cruise lines where capacity is available.
And it’s a wonderful tool to avoid congestion and increase the economic benefits through a better distribution of the cruise traffic.
IGM: Do you have any plans to expand Itinerary Planner’s reach beyond the Baltic Sea and Norway?
IT: No, we haven’t. It’s fairly complicated because we depend on a very direct contact with ports to make sure that their capacity situation is always up to date.
If a port has a well-built capacity, the sign will turn green but if the hub is partly occupied, the sign will turn yellow. If the port is at full capacity on that particular day, Itinerary Planner will become red. That makes us really dependent on ports, as they need to be up to date with their capacity situation years ahead. [For now] we have to work hard to make sure that the information is in real time in these two regions, and we haven’t any time to think about it more than that.
CB: We would very much like to have St. Petersburg included in Itinerary Planner. St. Petersburg is not a member of Cruise Baltic but still, it’s one of the key ports in the region. I would like to offer St. Petersburg an opportunity to be a part of Itinerary Planning, which I think would be beneficial for St Petersburg but also for Cruise Baltic and Cruise Norway.
IGM: What are the short- to medium-term predictions for Cruise Baltic and Cruise Norway?
CB: Cruise Baltic is not a company, it’s an association and for that, we don’t have to make a profit. All the income that we get from ports is used for marketing activities, whether it is Itinerary Planner or trade shows, it could be a lot of stuff.
For the next six months, I believe that people would like to get out of the pandemic and get their normal life back. We are very focused on making sure that 2022 will be a good cruise year in the Baltic Sea.
IT: We strongly believe in the future of cruising, but we have a few challenges that we need to solve together in full cooperation with the industry and one of them is of course the distribution, which Itinerary Planner will do.
We are also doing some so work in Norway to make port ship destinations aware of the incredible importance of working with us and be active in distribution.
And in addition to that, we have to make sure that the emissions are cut in half as per the Paris Agreement. We are doing some political work with the cruise industry and also the Norwegian authorities, looking for doable solutions to cut the emissions in half by 2030.
We have to do better both when it comes to distribution and when it comes to cut emissions from industry, but we have good cooperation with cruise lines, CLEA and with Norwegian authorities to achieve the political acceptance for further growth of the cruise industry in Norwegian waters.