Esbjerg workshop considers ‘white spots development’ in cruise sector

Ports and regions looking to break into the highly competitive cruise market need patience, commitment and a strategic approach – and it is vital that they identify the features and attractions that really differentiate them from the opposition.

That was the conclusion from speakers and delegates at a workshop entitled ‘White Spots Development’, organised as part of the EU Cruise Gateway project.

The workshop, hosted by the Port of Esbjerg, Denmark, brought together partners and other experts to discuss ways of attracting cruise ships – and their passengers – to a region.

“We are an offshore port – definitely a ‘white spot’ for cruising,” said Karin Rix Holländer, executive assistant at the Port of Esbjerg. “At present, offshore energy, including oil & gas and wind power, dominates our port – but that doesn’t mean we should not explore new opportunities for the future.”

Soeren Clemmensen, sales and marketing manager at the Port of Esbjerg, explained to the delegates how Esbjerg had become the most important Danish port in the offshore industry, and had successfully adjusted to those activities over the years, having been a mainly agricultural and fishing port in the past.

The latest addition to Esbjerg’s portfolio is wind power – Esbjerg has become one of the leading ports in Europe for handling wind farm components and this success has led to a major expansion of the port.

However, it could also be an unusual catalyst for tourism. The workshop discussed the possibility of using the wind and energy industry as a tourist attraction – for example, with boat trips to see the Horns Rev I and II offshore wind farms, which are very popular and often fully booked.

Would it be possible to handle the demands of cruise ships alongside a busy energy business? “We believe it is possible to focus on both – and the Port of Stavanger in Norway is a fine example of this,” said Tom N. Nielsen, director of Esbjerg Business Development Centre.

According to a survey, most of the cruise tourists visiting Esbjerg want to visit the island of Fanoe, the old city of Ribe and the Legoland amusement park. The childhood home of the writer Hans Christian Andersen, in Odense, is also a potential visitor excursion, 90 minutes’ drive from Esbjerg.

A focal point of the workshop was a presentation by two experts from Norway – Irene Siljan Vestby, manager at Telemarkreiser, and Jan Einar Skarding, marketing and logistics manager at the Port of Grenland. They gave a detailed explanation of their own project to attract cruise ship calls, giving the Cruise Gateway partners advice based on their own experience.

Telemark has three scenic ports – Breivik, Langesund and Krageroe, which can accommodate cruise ships carrying around 1,000 passengers. A key message was that if an attraction is interesting enough to the tourist, that tourist is willing to travel quite a distance to get there. Also, she said, different nationalities tend to find different things interesting, so it is important to differentiate and be very targeted.

The speakers emphasised the amount of effort that is required in pushing forward a project like this. It is a long-term commitment and requires a lot of patience, said Irene Siljan Vestby.

Advice to delegates included: use the experience of others, as this can make the start-up easier; Esbjerg’s wind power specialism can be used as a tourist attraction; produce interesting material to explain the many interests in a region; expect to put in real effort and serious dedication in order to attract the cruise sector.