Port of Tallinn chief: Cruise tourist numbers still low due to war fears

The first cruise ship of 2021 arrives in Tallinn.
The first cruise ship of 2021 arrives in Tallinn. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Port of Tallinn expects the number of cruise tourists arriving in Estonia this year to be similar to 2022, which was still considerably lower than during the pre-pandemic period. Port of Tallinn chief Valdo Kalm says, that Russia's war in Ukraine has also made cruise tourists more reluctant to travel to Estonia.

According to Port of Tallinn chief Valdo Kalm, European tourists are more willing to travel to Estonia than those from the U.S. and Asia, who have become reluctant due to the war in Ukraine.

Last year, around Tallinn and Saaremaa welcomed around 170,000 cruise tourists between them. However, the number was three times lower in 2021, due to the continuing impact of the coronavirus and the associated travel restrictions.  These figures pale in comparison to the pre-coronavirus era however, when more than half a million cruise tourists visited Estonia each year during the high season.

Port of Tallinn chief Valdo Kalm told ERR, that it is difficult to predict the exact number of cruise tourists, who will visit Tallinn during the season. However, this year – around 120,000 are expected to arrive in the Estonian capital. With a dozen cruise ships also heading to Saaremaa, that means the numbers will be more or less the same as last year.

At the moment, tourism is being affected by the war in Ukraine, which, for those looking in from afar, appears to be happening right on Estonia's doorstep.

"On the one hand, we think there will be a few less ships, but on the other hand, their occupancy rate is better than last year. So, we expect the number of cruise tourists to be somewhere around the same level," Kalm said. "European tourists are already travelling quite boldly, as are the Finns and the Swedes. So, the recovery has been good. However, the Americans are a bit scared and there are also fewer people coming from Asia. The effects of the war (on tourism) won't wear off so quickly."

Tallinn Harbor is ready to receive tourists and Kalm says they are very pleased to have been able to construct a new cruise terminal for a relatively good price during the coronavirus pandemic.

He added, that Tallinn is very well known due to the Old Town being a UNESCO World Heritage site, and has a good international reputation.

Cruise bookings are usually made a year or two in advance. "There are some really interesting bookings for Christmas cruises next year. It's an interesting model and the cruises are changing too," said Kalm.

The Port of Tallinn chief added, that Caribbean cruises have recovered well after coronavirus pandemic and that they are also hoping to reach record levels again in Tallinn as the season gets longer and ship occupancy improves.  However, Russia's war on Ukraine will continue to have an impact on tourist numbers for some time.

Port of Tallinn is actively marketing itself and, in cooperation with the Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA), research has been done on how to better disperse cruise tourists once they arrive in Estonia. As a result, not all tourists will head to straight to Toompea after disembarking. Instead, tour operators have about 20 different itineraries to offer them, including trips to Tallinn's Kalamaja district and Kadriorg, Lahemaa National Park, as well as all kinds of nature tours.

"Last year we dispersed tourists much better, and this year we will definitely do the same, so as not to overburden the city. There is a lot to see in Estonia," Kalm said. "We are also trying to play up Kadriorg Palace to cruise tourists. In the past, St. Petersburg was an attractive destination, but as it is not at the moment, and won't be in the near future, we are trying to show that Kadriorg is a place, where you can see Italian architecture and the history of Peter the Great."

This year's cruise season runs until September 29. During the season, 39 cruise ships will make a combined total of 94 visits to Tallinn.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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