March 29, 2023
(1:30 p.m. EST) -- The Baltic region has seen a sharp decline in the number of port calls as a result of US cruise lines pulling itineraries due to the conflict in Ukraine, but port officials were reminding industry figures assembled at a cocktail reception at the Seatrade Cruise Global Convention in Fort Lauderdale that there was more to the region than just the port of St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Baltic region, which includes countries like Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Norway, Poland and Sweden, is expected to see a 9% decrease in the number of calls in 2023 compared with 2022, which is 21% lower compared to 2019.
The same goes for turnaround calls -- ports where passengers begin and end their cruise -- where the expected 2023 numbers are 5.4% lower than 2022 which will be a decrease of 9% overall since 2019.
Swedish capital Stockholm was expecting 300 calls in 2019, 206 in 2022, but just 128 calls this year.
"We were looking forward to 300 calls in 2022 before the war started, and that was an all-time high for Stockholm," said Stefan Scheja, Director, Cruise & Ferry, Port of Stockholm, at Seatrade Cruise Global in Fort Lauderdale.
"Americans themselves are staying at home on safe ground, even though it's perfectly safe in the Baltic."
The situation has become so acute that the region is considering a "rebrand" to explain both where it is in relation to Russia and Ukraine, but also to educate people that "it is so much more than just St. Petersburg" -- a port city long considered the crown jewel of any Baltic itinerary.
"We've done some research which shows that guests don't feel at all unsafe here, it's more because St. Petersburg is not on the itineraries and they're not aware of all the other destinations," explained Ida Katrine Skaarup, Senior Manager, Cruise Baltic.
There is some good news for the area with some area such as northern Norway benefitting, welcoming more than one million passengers in 2022. The number of cruise calls totalled 3,008 last year and a further increase is expected this year.
This has been partly driven by Viking Cruises basing a ship in the region year-round and the launch of Havila Voyages, which plies the Norwegian coastline year-round.
Klaus Bondam, Director, CruiseCopenhagen & Cruise Baltic, said: "We all know our region has so much more to offer than St Petersburg.
"There are so many more interesting places to see, and we have to communicate that to the world."
Smaller Scandinavian ports have also seen sharp increases in port calls including Karlskrona, Sweden, which has gone from having just two ship calls in 2019 to 27 expected calls in 2023, and Gothenburg which had 59 calls in 2019 and is expecting 92 calls in 2023.
Meanwhile, two Danish destinations have also benefitted -- Aarhus which had 32 calls in 2019 and is expecting 70 calls in 2023, and Skagen which had 43 calls in 2019 and is expecting 68 calls in 2023.
Despite the downturn in port calls, several major cruise lines are all planning Baltic cruises in 2023. These include Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises, Oceania Cruises, P&O Cruises, Ponant, Regent Seven Seas, and others.
Due to the war in Ukraine, none of the ships visiting the Baltic region will call on St. Petersburg, Russia for the foreseeable future.