Last month the two major Baltic turnaround ports reported that 2009 proved to be yet another record season. Copenhagen welcomed 520,000 cruise passengers on 330 ship visits. Stockholm rolled out the red carpet for 443,000 cruise passengers on 293 ship visits.
How do travel agents tap into the high passenger satisfaction rates and “better than average” commissions reaped by sending their clients on Baltic cruises? Here are a few tips to help you sell — and service — your Baltic-bound clients.
- Prepare for sticker shock—For the past two years, I’ve lived about an hour away from Copenhagen, in a small city situated at the gateway to the Baltic Sea. One of the reasons I chose to live in Helsingborg, Sweden, was that Copenhagen was just too expensive. $12 for a glass of beer in some places; $8 for a glass of bottled water; $7 for a cappuccino; such pricey accommodations and dining that after prolonged exposure, the mind eventually concedes defeat with regard to any aspirations to travel cheaply.
- Forget five stars—Last month, Oprah and Obama were in Copenhagen to push Chicago’s failed Olympic bid. Obama arrived and returned home on the same day; Oprah stayed in the exceptionally pricey Karen Blixen suite at D’Angleterre. Fortunately, Oprah has money to burn in what Mercer’s Cost of Living Index cites as the world’s 7th most expensive city. Your clients don’t.In Copenhagen, put your clients in the four-star Hotel TwentySeven. It’s a Clarion Collection Hotel, and the rate is about $150 per night for one person and around $180 for two. Rooms are small, but breakfast and dinner (buffet style) are included, which can save your clients a bundle over dining out. WiFi is included, and there’s an IceBar next door, where hotel guests get a free refill on a cocktail, a $17 value.
In Stockholm, book your clients in the Scandic Anglais, a great location at $300 for two people for two nights. Scandic Anglais is situated in trendy Stureplan, a 10-minute walk from Gamla Stan, but only two minutes from the best shopping in Stockholm.
- Sell the fairy tale — Despite the crushing costs of the Nordic capitals, both Copenhagen and Stockholm are worthy of two nights pre/post. Remind your clients that they are only visiting, not moving to or living in the Scandinavian capitals. Yes, they may spend more for hotels and dining than they would back home, but how often does one get the chance to visit such fairy-tale nations? Think Tivoli, Hans Christian Andersen and the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, and Astrid Lindgen (creator of Pippi Longstocking), Skansen and Gamla Stan in Stockholm.
- Skip the bus tour; walk instead — With the exception of St. Petersburg and Warnemunde (for Berlin), the Baltic ports are highly walkable cities. In Tallinn, Estonia, advise your clients to start their walks in the Upper Old Town and head back to the ship through the Lower Old Town, with a guide to explain the history. Other Baltic walks: Stockholm’s Old Town, Djurgarden and Strandvagen; Copenhagen’s Stroget and from Langelinie (the Little Mermaid won’t be there, however; she is at the World Expo in China during 2010) to Nyhavn; Helsinki’s Kauppatori market and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Suomenlinna Fortress (your clients will need to take a 10-minute ferry from Kauppatori market to get to the fortress).
- Sell Beyond St. Petersburg — Your clients may book a Baltic cruise because of the main drawing card, St. Petersburg, but they’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by the end of their cruise that other destinations rank as their favorites. I cruised Baltic itineraries five times in the past two years, and typical passenger feedback highlighted favorite Baltic destinations being: Tallinn, Estonia, for its Medieval charm and ease of getting around; Visby, Sweden, an exceptionally beautiful city surrounded by a Medieval wall on the island of Gotland and often referred to as the city of “roses and ruins”; and Stockholm, the city that floats on water (Stockholm is built on 14 islands). One drawback to Visby is that ships often must skip the destination because tender service is too risky when there are high winds or tricky currents. Prepare your clients for the possibility.
- Prepare your clients for Baltic fatigue — Cruising from Copenhagen, your clients will lose one hour on the first night of their cruise and another hour on the second night of their cruise, depending on the itinerary. Of course, they’ll make up the time difference on the return, but time changes and port-intensive itineraries can make Baltic cruising a tiresome activity. Ships that overnight two nights in St. Petersburg can fatigue even the most enthusiastic travelers because of all of the sightseeing possibilities. To make it easier on your clients, advise that they book private tours when possible, especially in St. Petersburg.
Also, when overnighting two nights in St. Petersburg, suggest to your clients that they plan one half day off from sightseeing, staying on board the ship in the morning and going out for canal tour in the afternoon. So that your clients are well-rested, also advise the pre/post to ease them into the trip. And of course, suggest they fly business class if possible.
Visit Ralph’s web site, www.avidcruiser.com, to contact him and for additional articles about cruising.