In Kotka-Hamina two development projects with a goal to start-up and develop cruise business in the region were funded by the ERDF-programme during the period 2013-2016. Cruise business is one of the most growing business areas within the tourism sector and the Baltic region is stated to be one of the most efficient and profitable market areas for cruise lines. It is expected that the cruise business is growing significantly in this area, meaning that new destinations with proper infrastructure, as the Kotka-Hamina region, must be developed and found to serve cruise guests and cruise lines on a level that meets excellent international standards. The development continues since the beginning of 2017 as a regional collaboration, Cruise Port Kotka, where the Port of HaminaKotka, the regional development company Cursor Oy, and the cities of Kotka and Hamina financially invest in the development of cruise business in the region.
The main goal of the projects was to start up cruise business in the Kotka-Hamina region. Product development, marketing, sales and networking into the main players in the market, were the main working areas. The cruise industry is very diversified and difficult to access. The business environment is very shut-in and it is extremely difficult to entry without connections to the key persons in the network. To understand the industry needs, a strong dedication into the business environments of the stakeholders, and an effective networking perspective is required. The broad networking work done during the project both on the national and international levels, and concentrating on all stakeholders, enabled a development of an increased awareness of the destination.
A powerful sales and marketing strategy towards the decision makers of the cruise industry was one of the key activities during the process. It became obvious that it was extremely important to the cruise line representatives to get a direct contact with the key decision makers of the destination as the planning process of the product concepts needs collaborative views and understanding of the market needs to develop a process where the customer demand and the supply of the destination will meet each other in a productive way. The role of the tour operator is traditionally in a key position in the value chain of the cruise business. No sales of the destination is going to be achieved if a mutual trust and respect from the cruise line and the tour operator towards the destination is not developed. A dedicated processing of product development, sales and marketing activities played a key role in the project to achieve the trust and respect of the cruise lines and tour operators.
During the implementation of the project, it was of importance to develop the service levels of the service providers and the other stakeholders to a level of international standards. The actions enabled a positive general development of the companies involved also including the turnover. The tourism industry in the region received new dimensions and marque values and developed in addition a global marketing window. The service infrastructure of the port was also analyzed to enable the understanding of the demands vs. supply of the technical international level.
By the end of 2016, the Kotka-Hamina region received a position as a new port of call within the Baltic region. However, a long-term development work should be implemented still for a three-year period as the development curve from start-up to business for this kind of a start-up project is statistically six years from its’ beginning. This implicates that the Kotka-Hamina region should be ready for a sustainable cruise business in 2020. The Summer of 2017 was a start-up phase for the cruise business in the region with 4 calls and 8600 cruise guests plus crew. For the up-coming seasons some confirmations for calls have been received. Based on the feedback so far, the Kotka-Hamina region has a competitive edge within the cruise business in the Baltic region when the positioning is developed and has found its’ place.
It is justified to state that the actions and processes done during the projects have developed a base for the possibilities of producing profitable cruise business in the Kotka-Hamina region on a long-term basis.