Stockholm is open and receiving calls. This year it is expecting 29 calls with three of these being in December
They say every cloud has a silver lining and what may have appeared a wrong move by Sweden in the early days of Covid-19 is now working to the country’s benefit. The country’s radical approach to the pandemic, ie keeping schools and businesses open throughout, is not only benefiting its citizens but also the cruise industry.
Unlike many ports worldwide, the Ports of Stockholm (PoS) has been open throughout. This year it is expecting 29 calls with three of these being in December. Stefan Scheja, manager cruise and ferry PoS, comments: “For the port and the for the city it is fantastic that we can show that we have a business that is up and running and that passengers are willing to get on board again and travel around.
“Normally our season ends in mid-October so the winter calls are a fantastic and a positive effect of Covid-19. We hope it will be the start of more seasonal calls in the future.”
Whilst TUI cruises will have 20 ‘scenic calls’ whereby the ships turn in front of the Old City, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises (HLC) will bring passengers and crew into the city from Europa, Europa 2 and Hanseatic Inspiration.
It was in June that the PoS recognised the possibility of German markets (which account for about 25% of cruise passengers to Stockholm) and those close to the Baltic Sea visiting. It began discussions with the city and the region. Scheja says: “Right from the start we were all keen to make it possible. The only concern was that it should not affect the hospitals but the authorities and the city never said no to cruise calls.”
Hence the Ports of Stockholm developed a Covid-19 Management Plan, which it worked on together with the Port of Gothenburg, and which follows procedures and recommendations from the Swedish authorities. It also follows the structure of EMSA Covid-19: EU guidance for cruise operations.
Scheja is quick to point out that any procedures are relevant to the coronavirus situation at a particular time and that recommendations can be altered, in accordance with the authorities, should it change.
“Because Sweden has handled Covid-19 differently to all countries around us, we have not had to make significant changes for when the ships call,” he comments.
The protocols put in place basically follow those being followed by all Swedes, whose mantra is: stay at home if you feel unwell, wash your hands often, and keep your distance from other people in public.
In the terminal, procedures include signs about social distancing, plenty of hand sanitisers, standard cleaning of surfaces and separate embarking and disembarking. Presently there are no time slots for embarking passengers as the numbers are low but these may be introduced next season for turnaround calls.
On Monday September 7, HLC’s Europa and Europa 2 were the first ships to call the city with passengers getting ashore this season. Both stayed overnight with much reduced passenger numbers on each ship.
“It was a good start to see that all the work we had done and the precautions we are taking are working successfully. Both companies [HLC and TUI Cruises] have huge protocols around Covid-19. We were very conscious that nothing should go wrong. It feels very safe. In these days it must be the most safe and controlled way to travel around because I cannot see flights, buses or any other tour operator having the same protocols like the cruise industry.”
Passengers from the HLC ships are able to go on dedicated tours but also visit independently. The crew can also go ashore. Although the TUI ships do make a technical call during the scenic cruises, nobody gets on or off the ships and, at present, Scheja says there is no indication that this will change.
In terms of HLC passengers, tour operators had to sign a protocol with the company as to how they should operate, eg blocking off every second seat, cleaning the buses etc but otherwise it was like a regular tour.
Scheja comments: “I think the citizens have taken a larger responsibility following the health authorities’ recommendations. Sweden is up and running more or less with normal conditions.”
Discussing the 2021 season, Scheja comments: “Some rerouting of some vessels has been discussed but in general all the planned calls are still there [except for Cruise & Maritime Voyages due to bankruptcy] but we are not so optimistic that calls will be up around 100%. Next season we estimate to reach 50% of planned calls, ie 150, and these calls I think will be with some kind of reduced capacity on board”.
“If we look further into the future. For 2022 we estimate to be back on 75% of 2019 calls and we hope in 2023 to be back to 2019, ie 278 calls.”
For now, Stockholm is very happy with the calls it has this season. “It is also showing that the industry is there. We are very lucky to have the Stockholm archipelago and location where vessels can turn in front of the old city. This shows the strength of the destination”.
“The cruise industry knows that there are not so many ports that are open and allowing passengers and crew to come ashore.” To make it easier for visiting cruiselines the PoS Covid-19 plan has been shared with other Swedish cruise ports, such as Helsingborg, Kalmar, Malmo and Visby.
Karin Mantymaki, director market development Visit Stockholm, is also delighted to see the ships returning. “It is a light in the dark that international guests are returning. It is good to start small and to build from there. It is a good sign for industry in Stockholm that people are returning. “In August we have seen a slight increase in bed nights.”
The city has been hit harder than others in Sweden due to it accounting for 40% of all international visitors to the country.
Most of the attractions are open although time slots have to be booked and some have restrictions on opening hours. Most of the hotels, restaurants, shops and cafes are open. Smaller shops may have rules on how many people can enter with a queuing system outside. Only table seating is allowed in all food and beverage outlets and there has to be distance between the tables. “Apart from that it is very much people’s own responsibility to keep their distance. Swedes are pretty good at respecting the rules although there are no laws,” explains Mantymaki.
Visit Stockholm will participate in Seatrade Virtual in October. Mantymaki explains how important it is to explain to the wider world what is happening in Sweden when it comes to Covid-19. “Now we are on the good list again it is easier,” she says. It may well be that the country’s approach proves to be as effective or even moreso than others but only time will tell.
In the meantime, she says: “For the cruiseships coming now the people will have a wonderful experience.” Of that there is no doubt.