Karlskrona, Sweden, calls are up more than 400 percent

Beautiful Karlskrona 4K ULTRA HD – one of Sweden’s most beautiful cities (Credit: Milomm)

In 2022 Karlskrona welcomed 37 calls – an increase of more than 400 percent on its previous five to 10 calls annually – and is on track for 25 this year with repeat bookings coming in for 2024 and 2025.

Malin Hagberg-Andersson, guide and cruise coordinator Cruise Destination Karlskrona, says: “In the early part of the year, we had about 40 requests. A lot of these calls were from new companies, such as Viking, AIDA, Silversea and Hebridean.

“The cruise lines were forced to change routes [because of the terrible Russian invasion of Ukraine and hence St Petersburg being taken off itineraries]. For us it has been an opportunity to show that we are worth not just one visit every 10 years but every year.”

Karlskrona also benefited from Sweden being one of the only countries that remained open for cruises during the Covid-19 pandemic. “We had quite a few calls during the pandemic also. I think that was also like a starter for us. The word went around that we could handle both the bubble tours and the restrictions wanted from the ships.”

This also had the benefit of preparing Karlskrona for the increase in call and passenger numbers. “It was easier for us because we didn’t have to let people go in the same way. We did all this marketing during the pandemic for stay at home vacations. The hotels had a very good year both in 2020 and 2021 so we were more prepared for the cruise passengers.”

One problem that already existed was a lack of guides but the pandemic meant planned training could not take place until April 2022. “Since we got this massive call increase [and also for land based tours], we had to speed educate 30 people in two months. We then continued with the training in autumn 2022.”

Karlskrona is built of 33 different islands with the central island being only 1km across and hence it is only five to 10 minutes walk to any one of the 30 attractions including the Naval Museum which is a sister to the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. The region is also known as the Garden of Sweden which means a wide variety of shore excursions spanning the historical and cultural to the natural.

One of the keys to success, Hagberg-Andersson says is that the whole community is involved with and keen on having cruiseship calls. The fact that the city is the main base for the Swedish Navy and has a year-round daily ferry service to Poland means that the maritime world is embedded in the city’s nature.

As well as a local cruise network, the port has a good relationship with the press which regularly gets in touch for local stories. On cruise call days, not only are Hagberg-Andersson and her colleague Therese Silver-Sorensen, guide & cruise assistant, on the quayside all day to greet their guests and receive feedback, but also a welcoming party in 18th century costume and regular locals who come to talk to the passengers. “They love it when the ships are coming. It is really positive for all the people of Karlskrona.”

The feedback is also invaluable in making sure the ships keep returning: “The reasons guests give for enjoying Karlskrona is that it is so clean and that there is so much to offer within a short distance.” It seems that many passengers choose to return, especially the Germans who can return by ferry.

Prior to the pandemic, about 50% of the passengers were American, 40% British and 10% Germans but now that split is 25%, 25% and 50% respectively.

The fact that Karlskrona is mainly a tender port shows the strength of the destination. The largest ship to call last year was MSC Poesia.

(Karlskrona Baltic Port, Cruise Europe)