Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

In the cruise industry, there may be no more vocal champion for environmental preservation than Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam.

Skjeldam spoke recently at Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld event for agents in Fort Lauderdale and brought with him from Norway a fresh perspective. Dressed in a t-shirt and canvas sneakers, Skeldjam spent at least as much time talking about sustainability as he did about his cruise brand.

He cited a recent survey that found 30% of travelers expressed a preference for a vacation operator focused on sustainability over one that wasn't.

Afterward, in an interview, Skjeldam said: "What I'm 100% sure about is that [percentage] will increase."

As it expands its footprint from being primarily a Norwegian coastal transport service to primarily an expedition cruise line, Hurtigruten is betting heavily that its spending on sustainable initiatives has a payoff.

For years, Skjeldam said its ships have been exclusively using less polluting marine gas oil, rather than bunker fuel, a step that based on today's fuel prices costs Hurtigruten an extra $20 million a year.

"For us there's no other way to operate," Skjeldam said. "We need as an industry, in particular we who operate in waters that are waste-sensitive, we need to embrace sustainability and make our products stand out that way."

So Hurtigruten is forging beyond lighter diesel fuels into LNG power, increased use of batteries onboard to store and manipulate engine output, and into biofuel produced by waste products from the fishing industry.

By putting sustainability at the forefront of its brand, Hurtigruten is hoping to attract environmentally-sensitive cruisers. With its relatively small ships, it can thrive on that 30% of the traveling public that says it cares about such issues.

Other cruise lines of other sizes, and with other business models, may not follow Hurtigruten's path. Their embrace of sustainability may not match Skjeldam's zeal for the mission, which was easy to see in his presentation to CruiseWorld.

But if nothing else, it will be interesting to see what results from a cruise line committed to pushing the boundary of what's possible in clean and green operation. If it leads to more competition over who has the most sustainable cruise, it could be a useful catalyst for the industry in the years ahead.

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