Helsinki is a compact city full of different activities. Virve Kataja from Next Travel makes sure that cruise passengers will be keen to visit the city time and again.
Spring welcomes the Viking Sea to Hernesaari. The cruise passengers disembark and are greeted by the friendly smile of Virve Kataja, Next Travel’s Marketing & Sales Director, who points the visitors towards buses reserved for them. The buses fill up quickly and head to various different sites: a city tour, Porvoo and Suomenlinna.
“It’s our job to organise a programme of activities to ensure that cruise passengers experience a warm welcome and can quickly get out of the harbour and enjoy a range of activities,” says Kataja.
Meticulous planning is the cornerstone of everything else. Next Travel’s largest group of visitors this summer will be almost 6,000 people, so the timetable must work down to the minute. Summer is expected to be busy overall, as almost 300 vessels are expected to call at Helsinki, carrying 540,000 passengers. Pre-planned trips sell well, and the business has the wind at its back.
“About 40 per cent of cruise passengers take part in planned activities on land. This requires the right types of trips and a sufficiently wide-ranging offering. The incoming office plays a particularly important role here in the Baltic region because passengers come to visit cities and learn about the history of the area. It is different on the Mediterranean, where passengers may choose to go to the beach for day. I believe that we are a great help to cruise passengers who are not very familiar with the places they are visiting.”
Simplicity attracts holiday-makers
Kataja says that the largest groups of cruise passengers are from Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom. Germans and Brits board the ship at harbours in their home countries, while Americans fly to Copenhagen or Stockholm and then head off for a Baltic cruise.
“Earlier, it was widely believed that cruises were only for the elderly, but this is no longer the case. A large proportion of cruise passengers are working people,” says Kataja.
Cruise passengers appreciate simplicity: the ship makes it easy to travel between cities and the tables are always set for them. The same simplicity is where the on-land activity programme comes into its own. It is rare that groups are deeply familiar with Helsinki or the Finnish language, so it is convenient for a local person to plan the activities.
Not all harbours are the same
A large proportion of Next Travel’s cruise passengers arrive at Hernesaari and the West Harbour. However, these are not the only harbours.
“Smaller vessels can dock at Katajanokka, which is definitely the best place, because passengers can access the very centre of the city directly. After they have enjoyed their trips, it is easy for them to stop off at the Esplanadi for some shopping and then walk back to their cruiser.”
From summer 2019 onwards, international cruiser traffic will be increasingly centralised in Hernesaari, which can accommodate vessels of up to 360 metres in length. Centralisation will make things easier for Next Travel, as well as for souvenir shops, so the entire tourism business will be boosted by the change.
“The Port of Helsinki plays a major role in cruise tourism. We work seamlessly with them, and this is important. We do things together.”