Ten-Country Commission Plans Transnational Projects

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BY DINAH A. SPRITZER

Reed Travel Features

NORRKOPING, Sweden -- The Baltic Sea Tourism Commission (BTC), charged with promoting tourism to the 10 countries in the Baltic Sea region, has more than a dozen transnational products in the pipeline with the expectation of a $5 million grant from the European Union.

Arne Ellefors, general secretary of the BTC, said the grant likely will be received in the fall as part of a larger package targeting the economic development of the Baltic Sea region.

BTC countries are Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden.

The BTC has more than 120 members with tourism interests in the region, such as national tourist offices, tour operators, cruise lines and hotels.

Ellefors said the BTC has an even better chance of getting the grant this year after receiving recent recognition by the "environmental ministers" of the Baltic Sea countries, who named the BTC as the "leading body for the development of sustainable tourism."

The BTC's most important task in the coming year, Ellefors said, is to fill the "serious gap in transnational products.

"I can't tell you how many tour operators approach us and ask why our members don't offer a greater selection of themed Baltic Sea programs, as opposed to single-country programs or generic tours," he said.

One of BTC's most recent product promotions is for old-time sailing vessel tours in Scandinavian waters in 19th century wooden ships, operated by Denmark's Baltic Schooner Charters.

Special-interest programs like this, which focus on the regions' Viking past or Hanseatic heritage, will create a freshness to the Baltic Sea product, Ellefors said.

"If we could succeed in getting across an image or theme to the American market, such as our precious amber, this could create demand.

"A tour might take clients to visit the amber pits where they can see how amber is dug out and crafted.

"Amber was the trading material of the Vikings and has played a significant role in the development of the Baltic Sea region," he said.

BTC members also are creating tours that focus on farmstays, camping, island-hopping and driving along the Via Baltica, the road connecting Warsaw to Scandinavia.

Ellefors cited the recent success of New York-based Special Expeditions' sailing cruises through the Swedish archipelago, with stays in historic hotels of character, as proof that a market exists in the U.S. for unusual Baltic itineraries.

For the U.S. market, cruising is the main Baltic Sea attraction.

"Cruises in the region have risen dramatically over the past couple years, and the American cruise companies are building even more ships to sail in the region.

"Cruising is so important to us because it's an advertisement. Passengers come back and stay on land after they've come by sea," said Ellefors.

Nobody invests as much money in marketing the region as the cruise companies, Ellefors added, so the 26 BTC ports that promote to the cruise lines have gotten savvy about how to attract even more ships.

The BTC Internet site, http://www.balticsea.com, details all of the cruises on the Baltic Sea by port and ship.

Ellefors said the site is being developed to include tour options.

For more information, contact the BTC here at (011) 46-11 123-503; fax (011) 46-11 103-103.

The E-mail address is [email protected]

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