Bransom Bean, treasurer of the International Superyacht Association and director of Moore Stephens Crew Benefits, recently visited Norway to inspect ports that could welcome more megayachts. The visit was just one part of an ongoing project driven by Norwegian businesspeople and politicians termed “Norway á la carte for Superyachts.” Here, Bean provides insight into the goals and the chances for success.
First, to a large dollop of the coast of Maine, add lots of New Zealand’s Milford Sound and Alaskan glaciers. Stir in a few trolls, and then add a touch of aquavit. That’s the Norwegian fjords, and the next global superyacht destination if Ola Hiis Bergh and a group of Norwegian businesspeople have their way. In the process, the Norwegian Superyacht Association has probably already been born.
Earlier this month I was invited by Hiis Bergh on a whirlwind six-day trip from Bergen around the spectacular surrounding scenery that is the Norwegian fjords. The agenda culminated in a half-day conference he had organized in Bergen to introduce superyachts to a city already expert with the sea and commercial shipping. The message was, “There’s a great opportunity here, but while we may know how to attract cruise ships, superyachts are very different.”
And Hiis Bergh certainly knows how to attract cruise ships. As Bergen’s tourism director, he is known for starting Cruise Norway that in 2012 saw 2,000 cruise ship calls, one of the accomplishments that earned him a gold medal from the king of Norway. But Hiis Bergh is under no illusions that the superyacht challenge is the same. “It is a very different market; we know that superyachts are looking for something very special,” he observes. “That’s Norway in general and our fjords in particular, but we need to customize what we offer if we are to succeed with superyachts.”
At the conference, many of the attendees were people I had met at earlier at their hotels, ports, and attractions. Like most Norwegians, they all spoke excellent English and agreed with Hiis Bergh, pointing proudly to progress already made independently. One represented the village of Rosendal. “They’ve been hosting superyachts for eight years, including visits from the likes of A, and have come a long way,” Hiis Bergh says. “Above all they’ve learned to be flexible and proactive—we know superyachts don’t operate on a schedule.” Rosendal, and other villages, don’t have berths in the traditional sense, however. Rather, Rosendal uses small piers, usually parallel to the shore, that are used for mail and supply boats. They’re about 26 to 66 feet long (8 to 20 meters long) and fitted with big, black tractor tires. (I told them to get rid of the tires, naturally.) The draft alongside, due to the steepness of the surrounding terrain, is nearly 10 feet (3 meters), and nearly 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) out, it’s hundreds of feet. It’s interesting to note that most village representatives say that yachts prefer to anchor out, which is ironic because lying alongside is easier. Why? The range of the tide is less than 3.3 feet (1 meter).
Regardless, one of the other conference delegates was the fifth-generation owner of the five-star Hotel Ullensvang, who regularly hosts the Queen of Norway and the royal yacht Norge (pictured at top). He expects to have a new dedicated superyacht berth completed this summer, on land recently acquired beside his landmark facility, parallel to the shore the way the one in Rosendal is. Another delegate was from Bekkjarvik (pictured above), a small vishing village reminiscent of Boothbay Harbor or Camden, Maine. As part of its redevelopment, Bekkjarvik expects a superyacht berth and adjacent helicopter pad to be completed this summer to complement its 18th-century, 40-room hotel.
Like many destinations, cruise ships are sometimes seen as a mixed blessing in Norway. There’s debate on how much they actually bring to the local economy and the effects on the culture and environment of their hordes of passengers. However, the Bergen seminar delegates seemed in no doubt about the opportunity superyachts offer.
And from what I saw, there’s every chance Hiis Bergh and his colleagues will succeed. First, the Norwegian fjords, glaciers, and waterfalls, along with more than 15,600 miles (25,148 kilometers) of shoreline and 50,000 islands, are truly spectacular and already visited by some of the biggest yachts. Second, some of the world’s most famous yacht builders are just a day or so voyage away. Third, the infrastructure is already there and being improved daily.
But most important, as I saw first-hand, is the enthusiasm of Hiis Bergh and those supporting him in this new Norwegian superyacht association. As one of them told me, “When Ola puts his mind to something, he always gets it.”