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Asian tourists to compensate for dwindling ferry passenger numbers

The shipping companies operating the Tallinn-Helsinki route confirm that their passenger numbers aren't growing as much as they used to, and that they are hoping for tourists from Asia visiting the area to make up for the otherwise lower numbers.

More than nine million passengers crossed the Gulf of Finland between Tallinn and Helsinki last year, a number that according to many sources nobody would have believed possible just two decades ago.

Still, according to Statistics Estonia, the number of Finns staying overnight in Estonia dropped by some 10 percent last year, which hasn't left the shippers unaffected. As CEO of Eckerö Line, Taru Keronen says, there is no reason at the moment to expect that these numbers will recover any time soon.

The reason for the declining number of Finns coming over are recent price hikes in the Estonian economy, Keronen told ERR's "Aktuaalne kaamera" newscast. "The higher prices of alcoholic beverages are one reason, but the general price level has increased as well, and 10 to 15 percent of our passengers have said that they will travel to Estonia less frequently, or not at all anymore," Keronen said.

Eckerö not planning Helsinki-Riga route

While some companies have recently been looking into a connection between Helsinki and Riga, Eckerö isn't planning any such addition to its routes. In their eyes, the distance is too great and the trip too long, and the prospect of being able to buy cheap alcohol not enough of an incentive, Keronen added.

Eckerö's recent addition of another trip on the Tallinn-Helsinki route at 6 o'clock in the early morning was successful, as the effect on competitor Viking Line shows. Their boat now leaves earlier, namely at 7 instead of 8 o'clock in the morning.

According to the company's Estonian director, Inno Borodenko their passenger numbers have decreased slightly mainly to Eckerö's success adding their early morning departure. They are still expecting the summer passenger numbers to be high, which is why they will add two additional ferries for the season, he added.

Tallink meanwhile isn't about to change the time of its first departure at 7.30 in the morning. The competitors' recent actions have influenced their numbers to a degree, sales and marketing director, Margus Hunt told ERR, but a poll has shown that passengers are still happy with the current departure time.

Lower passenger numbers affecting ticket prices

As Borodenko confirms, the changing numbers are affecting ticket prices, which have increased slightly. Viking's competitors Eckerö and Tallink are hoping to make up for the loss of Finnish passengers by attracting more tourists coming in from Asia.

To this end, Eckerö has recently added the Ali Bay payment system, and both companies are adding Mandarin Chinese to their selection of available languages.

"We're planning to continue with our Mandarin-speaking staff, and we'd like to add Japanese speakers this year as well," Tallink's Margus Hunt said. "And of course we also have to take Asian tourists into account with regard to the selection of our shops and menus," he added.

Tallink's number of international passengers grew by 34 percent last year. To accommodate its Asian passengers, the company recently had catalogues printed in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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