As the American cruise market in Europe is expanding so is the supply of European cruise products being marketed to Americans.
Among the companies actively marketing cruises with an international mix of passengers is New York-based EuroCruises which in its first year of operations is marketing more than 40 ships from 17 different cruise lines.
Founded by Bjarne Mikkelsen, the five-person operation packages cruises with land programs. "The cruise lines usually sell a cruise and attach a couple of days of land before or after and that's it," Mikkelsen said. "Instead we are a tour operator offering complete vacation packages and we happen to specialize in cruises."
While EuroCruises tends to sell Swedish, Finnish, Russian and other European vessels rather than the ships of the major American-based cruise lines (with the exception of Ocean Cruise Lines), this is not a disadvantage, according to Mikkelsen, who said that most Americans who travel to Europe don't know the names of ships or cruise lines anyhow. "Most people don't know Royal Cruise Line or Royal Viking Line so it doesn't make much difference," Mikkelsen said.
Mikkelsen said that his customers first want to know the ports, then how long the cruise is, and then, the price.
Both to agents and consumers
EuroCruises sells both to travel agents and directly to consumers. "If you get the customer on the phone, you don't ask him to call another travel agent," Mikkelsen said.
Mikkelsen said his focus was on individual passengers, not groups or escorted tours. While his Danish origin and time at the helm at Bergen Line make it natural for Mikkelsen to sell cruises in Northern Europe, in the Baltic, even a three-day catamaran trip from Kirkenes in Northern Norway to Murmansk in Russia, he also sells cruises in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Seas.
Mikkelsen said that he expected the Baltic market to grow by at least 20 percent a year over the next three years based on the expansion of ports in the region; the opening up of the Eastern European Baltic nations; and the organized marketing drive of the Baltic Tourism Conference.
Mikkelsen also said that he had developed two brochures, one for consumers and one for travel agents, sponsored by the cruise lines he sells and the Scandinavian airlines, Sas, Finnair, and Icelandair. Otherwise he said that he used PR and advertising to market his product, although on a scale fitting for a small, start-up operation. He noted that a one-inch ad in the February issue of Travel and Leisure had brought more than 1,100 inquiries. But he said his first "break" came with editorial mention in The New York Times travel section last December. "They are always looking for something unusual," Mikkelsen said, "and that we have."
Mikkelsen said he had found Travelage West very effective on the West Coast and Travel Weekly effective throughout the rest of the country. He said he had also found Nacoa agents to be very effective. He also noted that the market was "unpredictable." He explained that while at Bergen Line he had a core group of some 350 travel agents that produced most of the business, but now "it is coming from all over," he said.
In the Mediterranean, EuroCruises offers sailings aboard Classical Cruises' Illiria and Ocean Cruise Line's Ocean Islander and Ocean Princess.
In Northern Europe, EuroCruises presently offers cruises aboard the Viking Line, Silja Line, Kristina Cruises, Estline, Scandinavian Seaways, Smyril Lines, Funchal Cruises, Norway Line, and the baltic Shipping Company, as well as Ocean Cruise Lines and across the Swedish mainland on the Gota Canal steamers. Many of its cruises to the Soviet Union and Estonia and Latvia, originating in Sweden, Finland or Norway, do not require visas, only passport identification.
In the future, Mikkelsen, who said he is looking for small, off-beat cruise products, said he hopes to sell Nile cruises as well although he admitted that would be stretching the EuroCruises concept a bit.