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Sat 27 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Selling peace and quiet

Booking a cruise with Hurtigruten guarantees a 'once-in-a-lifetime' experience where nature, fresh air and the sound of silence are the USPs.

Booking a cruise with Hurtigruten guarantees a 'once-in-a-lifetime' experience where nature, fresh air and the sound of silence are the USPs.

The Middle East's outbound cruise market is still in its infancy, yet interest in this style of holiday - or meeting/incentive - is becoming increasingly popular. However, most cruisers tend to opt for big ships with big facilities - a product that the region's travel agents are just getting to grips with in terms of 'how to sell'.

Yet not all clients are looking for this type of cruise experience.

This is a voyage of a lifetime and the perfect way to get to know Norway intensely.

Experienced cruisers, top-end clients and adventurous travellers are seeking unique ‘at sea' experiences and there are a handful of cruise companies that come up trumps when it comes to serving this niche market.

One such cruise line is Hurtigruten - a Norwegian company established more than 100 years ago that specialises in cruises in Scandinavia, Greenland and Antarctica.

The Hurtigruten fleet comprises 13 ships with 11 operating along the coast of Norway all year round while MS Fram operates in Antarctica, Greenland and Spitsbergen.

Every day of the year, the Hurtigruten journey begins in Bergen, Norway, and travels north across the Arctic Circle to Kirkenes - an outpost near the Russian border.

Passengers stop at 34 ports in total ranging from remote fishing villages to bustling cities and itineraries are flexible including five-, six- or 11-day trips.

Few consumers or travel agents in this region have experienced what Norway has to offer, but Sonia Rashid, executive director of Scandinavian Connections, which represents Hurtigruten in the UAE, says the Norwegian Coastal Voyage really brings Norway to life as passengers are party to scattered settlements, dramatic scenery and a very large breath of fresh air.

This itinerary, she says, is suitable for "experienced travellers" who seek "an experience like no other", taking in "one of the most dramatic coastlines in the world".

"It's for those seeking a journey with nature and blissful relaxation as well as voyagers who like to discover both Arctic and Antarctic regions," she explains.

"This is a voyage of a lifetime and the perfect way to get to know Norway intensely." Unlike conventional cruise ships, there is no entertainment programme on board - a deliberate measure to ensure guests enjoy the "fascinating nature" characterised by hills, islands, fjords, waterfalls and much more.

Hurtigruten Germany managing director Bernd Stolzenberg, who addressed delegates at the official launch of Hurtigruten in the UAE, which took place at the Burj Al Arab on Thursday October 30, describes the cruise experience as "a niche that not many people know about".

"It's a chance to sample pure scenery, pure food and pure water," he says. "It's mystic - like experiencing a fairy tale."

One of the key selling points, he notes, is that there is no noise.

"You are selling peace and quiet," he says.

There are two unique experiences worth mentioning to clients: firstly, during the summer, there is daylight 24 hours per day, hence the phrase, ‘the land of the midnight sun'. In addition, there's the chance to witness the Northern Lights - the name of a light phenomenon often seen in the northern regions, which have been in existence since Earth formed an atmosphere.

How to get there

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) now flies three times weekly from Dubai to Copenhagen, the Danish capital. From here passengers can take onward flights to many of the ports served by Hurtigruten including Bergen, Tromso, Trondheim, Kirkenes and Longerbyen.

The airline operates three daily flights from Copenhagen via Oslo to Bergen. The Dubai-Copenhagen flight departs Dubai at 9.05am on Mondays, Thursday and Fridays.

The route is served by an Airbus 340 configured with 46 seats in Business Class (featuring the new SAS Business Sleepers), 28 in Economy Extra and 171 in Economy Class.

Travel agents should log onto www.sassalesinfo.com for more information.

The scientific name for the phenomenon is 'Aurora Borealis' and it is thought that these colourful lights, which can be viewed a night, originate from the sun.

During large explosions and flares, huge quantities of solar particles are thrown out of the sun and into deep space. These plasma clouds travel through space with speeds varying from 300 to 1,000 kilometers per second and create a natural light display that far surpasses a fireworks extravaganza.

Beyond Norway

You are selling peace and quiet.

In addition to the Norwegian coastal cruise, Hurtigruten offers sailings around Greenland, Spitsbergen and Antarctica.

Greenland - a six-hour flight from Copenhagen (which can be reached by flying direct from the UAE to the Danish capital with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) - offers guests a chance to sail through floating ice.

In fact, some of Hurtigruten's vessels are custom-built to cut through ice should the occasion arise, so there is no need to worry about Titanic-esque moments when on board these ships.

In addition, whiskey-drinking passengers are offered a unique experience - the chance to sip a wee dram chilled with 20-year-old ice, while nature lovers can take in some whale watching.

Wildlife is also a key highlight of cruises to Spitsbergen (north of Norway) and Antarctica where polar bears and penguins respectively are just some of the furry friends passengers will come face to face with.

A trip to shore gives guests the chance to take part in a number of land-based activities including dog-sledding.

Royal embassy of Norway charge of affairs, Åse Bjerke says she hopes that Hurtigruten's efforts to promote its unique cruise offerings to the UAE market will encourage more tourism from the Gulf to Norway.

She highlights the diversity of the Norwegian coastline where the Vikings once sailed, as well as the country's nature, architecture and picturesque villages, not to mention the "four seasons in one day" that the destination tends to experience.

Addressing VIPs, the travel trade and media at the Hurtigruten launch, Bjerke's message was "discover Norway, your way".

Sample itineraries

The Travel & Leisure Management Company: is offering a 12-day ‘Classic Round Voyage' taking in the entire Norwegian coast - a roundtrip from Bergen to Kirkenes and back.

Highlights include the fjords; stopovers at the Art Nouveau town of Ålesund, the medieval city of Trondheim, the world's most northerly town, Hammerfest, the busy port of Kirkenes, near the Russian border and Tromsǿ- the capital of the Arctic where the Midnight Sun is visible from the end of May until the last week in July.

Tromsǿ is also the starting point for many polar expeditions. Guests will also visit the Lofoten islands where the ship meanders through a network of inlets and isles. Here there is a chance to see a wide variety of sea birds such as puffins and sea eagles.

Prices range from Euro 1230 (US $1575) per person to Euro 2720 ($3484) per person depending on the season with supplements applicable to mini suites and grand suites. For all 2009 bookings, ‘Early Booking Discounts' ranging from 15% to 25% are applicable (offer valid until December 31, 2008).

The Travel & Leisure Management Company can also provide all land arrangements such as accommodation, transfers and sightseeing trips.

Visit www.xploreholidays.com or www.hurtigruten.com or www.hurtigruten.ae

Dnata Holidays: is offering a 12-day ‘Antarctica Discovery' cruise, starting in Buenos Aires and taking in Ushuaia, Half Moon Island, Paradise Bay, Lemaire Channel, South Shetland Islands and Cape Horn with prices starting from AED 19,999 ($5445) per person, excluding flights.

Agents are recommended to book clients on Emirates Airline's direct Dubai-Sao Paulo flight (daily) to connect to Buenos Aires. Alternatively, flights to Buenos Aires with Air France via Paris are AED 7080 ($1928) per person.

Add-on excursions to destinations in South America are also available.

Visit: www.dnataholidaysagents.com or www.hurtigruten.com or www.hurtigruten.ae

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