Hurtigruten defies mid-winter blues

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Norway’s coastal shipping line known as Hurtigruten is enjoying buoyant sales even in the dead of winter. The line, which suffered financial problems for years, has charted a more profitable course that’s boosting its bottom line in the off-season as well.

Hurtigruten’s stock jumped on news of increased interest in winter cruising off the Norwegian coast. Hurtigruten has had a major advertising campaign running for months, promoting everything from the Northern Lights to the tranquility and even the special darkness of winter days.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported a 60 percent increase in first-quarter bookings, although the line wouldn’t comment. The 11 Hurtigruten ships reportedly can boast around 125,000 guest days during the first three months of the year, compared to just 80,000 during the same period last year.

The winter is usually the quietest for the vessels that sail between Bergen on the west coast and Kirkenes in the far north. The resurgent shipping line, which has suffered from heavy debt in recent years and underwent a major reorganization, has been consciously trying to fill its cabins, luring travelers from inside and outside Norway with special offers like dog sledding, cultural programs, king crab safaris and the chance to visit a hotel made out of ice.Creative marketing efforts have even tried to cash in on the chance of storms and snowy winter landscapes. For many people from southern climes, winter in northern Norway can make for an exotic experience.

“We see the winter as one of the best things Norway can show off,” Stein Lillebo of Hurtigruten told Aftenposten .

It remains a challenge to fill the vessels, and Hurtigruten has redeployed Finnmarken to Australia, where it’s been chartered for offshore workers. One ship sails in Antarctica during the winter in Norway and the line also runs cruises to Greenland and Svalbard along with special routes outside Norway.

Summer remains the most important season for the line, and traffic slipped last year. Officials hope for a turnaround this year. CEO Olav Fjell has said that he expects the line will log a profit in 2010.