North star

Hurtigruten is unique. Though a Norwegian cruise operator, its product stands out in the market for several reasons. First are its journeys, which encompass not only coastal Norway but also Arctic and Antarctic destinations. Second, its Norwegian route between Bergen and Kirkenes is not a pure cruise line but a Government-commissioned public transport service for locals that welcomes national and international tourists into its working environment. Third is the vast spectrum of people and nationalities onboard a Hurtigruten cruise, drawn by the Norwegian landscape or polar scenery.

Director of technical maritime operations Dag Arne Wensel discusses the Bergen to Kirkenes route further: “Hurtigruten has an important role in Norwegian society, serving almost 300,000 guests as local commuters. On average they stay 1.5 days on board whilst our nearly 100,000 tourists remain onboard for approximately ten days. Revenue generated from this tourism is Hurtigruten’s biggest source of income. This coastal service runs daily with 11 ships that vary in size between 80 to 135 metres, have a capacity of 400 to 1000 passengers, and some of which are ro-ro vessels that can take up to 47 cars as well as a substantial amount of cargo.”

Two further vessels, MS Fram and MS Nordstjernen, serve Hurtigruten’s polar destinations. The MS Fram is an explorer ship built in 2007, designed for polar conditions, and sailing both to Antarctica and Spitsbergen. It has been given a luxurious interior that includes glass-enclosed observation lounge, gym, sauna and two Jacuzzis to provide passengers with a superbly comfortable experience. The MS Nordstjernen is the ‘old lady’ of Hurtigruten’s fleet, built in 1956 and offering classically themed interiors modernised during the 1980s. Today it operates exclusively on the Spitsbergen Archipelago but will be retired once its 2012 schedule is completed.

The routes Hurtigruten undertakes and the ships it sails them with would be enough to ensure dominance of a niche yet popular market, but it is also able to back it up with a high quality service. Head of Global Partnerships, Iain Cottam explains how the company remains dynamic: “Hurtigruten believes in delivering the highest standards to our customers and that belief is part of our DNA. We have been operating for 125 years and during that time built up considerable knowledge of how to service our clients. The aim is to exceed expectations at every level; from the moment contact is made, customers receive truly professional assistance.

“This is achieved because we are a small company so there are not many layers of management. Norway is also a very open society and that translates into our infrastructure, meaning there isn’t too much hierarchy and decisions can be made quickly. Hurtigruten is therefore an innovative company, able to deliver new products to the market and stay one step ahead of our competitors. Combine this with the high standards we set ourselves and it makes for a dynamic business. Finally, it is the people in our organisation that make it all happen. The ideas and path forwards are coming from staff working within the organisation, from the front line that has direct contact with customers, and this means we react to the concerns of the consumers.”

There are boundaries that Hurtigruten works within. It must continue providing the Bergen to Kirkenes line on a daily basis, for example, and as a polar specialist its schedules will remain focused on the Arctic and Antarctic. Within these limits, however, the operator has never stagnated. It invests a great deal in refreshing itineraries and updating them with new products.

One example is the relatively recent development of Northern Lights coastal cruises, where all of Hurtigruten’s luxurious ships journey into the depths of the Norwegian winter for four to five nights, aiming to give passengers an unrivalled view of Aurora Borealis. Though a cold, dark destination does not immediately suggest a popular journey, the operator recognised its potential and has been rewarded with excellent business on these cruises.

Dag highlights what passengers gain from this and Hurtigruten’s other services: “We bring the customer closer to nature, local culture and history and offer first class experiences of natural phenomena. It is a quiet and peaceful way of travelling with a high flexibility for the customers to decide their own activity level. Importantly, our knowledgeable excursion and lecturing teams, as well as our close connection to polar history, mean passengers receive excellent value for their money.”

Dynamism, innovation and quality have ensured Hurtigruten excellent business during the last two years. “It’s been tough – it would be wrong to say it hasn’t been – but we have outperformed many of our competitors,” Iain says. “The cruise industry has performed stronger than more traditional segments of tourism and we have used our strengths to make the most of a growing market. People are looking for something more natural and with our products you get to the very heart of some of the most outstanding natural features in the world.”

“We have more passengers onboard every year,” Dag says, “and especially during the winter season.” In 2011, Hurtigruten managed to grow its overall business by 7.5 per cent, though some markets such as the UK returned much higher growth in passenger cruise nights recorded. 2012 is currently on course for similar results. “Last year we also won the contract for the daily coastal services over the next eight years, beginning on January 1st 2012,” Dag adds, highlighting the company’s ongoing success on home territory as well.

Hurtigruten continues to innovate. It is currently working to reduce fuel consumption and NOx emissions on its ships, refurbishing interiors to use less lighting whilst making engine and propulsion systems more efficient. It is also implementing a strategy of development for its emerging markets such as China, India and Korea by establishing contacts and partners in the area. This will help broaden the international mix that Hurtigruten’s cruises are already known for.

“We have to watch the cost of the business and streamline our operations so that we are operating in a cost effective way and a lot of restructuring has happened over the last four to five years to ensure this,” Iain concludes. “Hurtigruten is a leaner, faster operating company that is as efficient as it can be during the recession. Ultimately I think we are fortunate in having a product that offers true value to our guests.”

Unique cruise experience
Innovative management
Thriving business