The announcement last week that Hurtigruten is building at least two new ships, has got a lot of people talking. The company, which specialises in adventure travel on the Norwegian coast, is rapidly becoming the world leader in Polar travel too. The ship order will be dedicated to expanding the latter branch of the company – taking its fleet from four to six ships, with an option of two more vessels further down the line.
We spoke to group CEO of Hurtigruten, Daniel Skjeldam, pictured above right, to find out more about the biggest investment in the company’s 120-year history.
Cruise Adviser: Why has the company chosen this moment to make the biggest investment in its history?
Daniel Skjeldam: We have been working towards this since 2013, when we implemented our new strategy. Essentially we want to grow on the Norwegian coastal areas, where we have historically been very big, but also oversee expansion of our explorer offering, where we have a historically been strong in Antarctica and the Arctic. That has led to a lot of positive momentum: we have launched the MS Midnatsol, the MS Spitsbergen and have tours in Arctic Canada, as well as more tours in Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard. It’s a natural moment for us to ensure that we have the capacity to grow our offering even further, which is why we have put the order in now.
What will the new ships mean for the diversification of Hurtigruten’s product?
The new ships will be exploration vessels purpose-built for the Polar waters, although they will also be able to operate on the Norwegian coast. This is an expansion, not an order to replace our existing fleet. Will we be going to more destinations? Absolutely. We will look at new destinations that fit the profile of our customers, who are interested in adventure, activities and culture.
You already offer land-based pre and post-cruise tours but is Hurtigruten dedicated to water-based travel? Would it ever expand into a purely land-based tour operator?
We have a significant land operation already. We own three hotels on the archipelago of Svalbard, a tour operation, snow mobiles as well as dog sledging etc. We would definitely look to offer holidays that do not involve travelling by sea. The ship-based operation is our bread and butter, and will remain so for years to come, but we would look to expand into this area. We do sell some pure land-based packages but right now most of it is linking our land-based operation with our ships. We avoid using the word ‘cruise’ directly. We prefer to refer to ourselves as more of an experience or a voyage, rather than a cruise.
What makes Hurtigruten a world-leader in adventure travel?
We have a very long history of operating in these areas. We began our Arctic operation in 1896, with sailings up to Svalbard. We are the largest operator in the Arctic and by next winter we will be the largest operator in the Antarctic too, for both land-based travel and cruise. So we have a significant history and experience in these areas, and a lot of competence in the company. That’s why we are expanding. Adventure is growing too, there is a lot more investment coming in to this category.
Are there any new destinations on the horizon?
We have already launched quite a few new destinations – such as the Amazon River, Arctic Canada and Newfoundland – but we definitely have new ones on the radar for the upcoming vessels. Although I can’t say anything about where just yet…
Daniel Skjeldam is the group CEO of Hurtigruten