Taking the temperature of a vibrant regional market

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The dynamism of the Nordic cruise and ferry travel retail business never fails to excite and surprise me when I travel in this region.

The retail environment is different, and certainly less premium, than at most airports; and the offer is relatively narrow, based around the drivers of spirits and confectionery on most routes. Yet for the region’s travelling consumers, shopping is a critical part of the ferry experience, whether they’re on short hops between say, Tallinn and Helsinki, or taking an overnight cruise from Oslo to Kiel.

The latter route is the one I took earlier this week, in the company of 100 other participants in the annual Nordic Travel Retail Seminar. We were guests of Color Line, this year’s host for the event. The travel experience on board the M/S Color Magic is different to that on many other ferry lines in the region – not least because the vessel is only six years old and can boast state-of-the-art cabins and an F&B offer that would not be out of place in a five-star hotel.

Yet one thing remains the same whether you’re travelling principally with Norwegians (as here), Swedes on the Stockholm-Tallinn sailings or Finns (from Helsinki) – and that’s the nightly shopping frenzy that takes place in the Tax Free stores.

The ship was far from full (weekends are peak periods for the overnight sailings), yet the stores were buzzing with consumers stocking up on large multi-packs of confectionery and the great savings on liquor. It’s not hard to see the attraction of the latter category to Norwegians: we paid €25 for two beers in a bar in downtown Oslo the night before the sailing.

Not surprisingly, even the average basket size is larger than you’ll normally see, such is the vigour with which shoppers buy on board.

For anyone who doubts the power of the ‘Tax Free’ brand, a visit to this regional market will convince you it’s very real indeed. What we saw on Tuesday night you can see right across the Nordics any day of the week, all year round.

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