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Travel Changemakers: Hedda Felin, CEO of Hurtigruten, Norway’s legacy cruise line

During her whistlestop tour of Australia, Hurtigruten Norway CEO Hedda Felin chatted with Karryon about the cruise line's fascinating history and how the company’s pioneering spirit is propelling it into the future.

During her whistlestop tour of Australia, Hurtigruten Norway CEO Hedda Felin chatted with Karryon about the cruise line’s fascinating history and how the company’s pioneering spirit is propelling it into the future.

It’s not every day that an interview with a visiting cruise line CEO starts with a glass of wine – but the sun is well past the yardarm, and I am Hedda Felin’s last official appointment of the day.

“Skol!” she said as we clinked glasses of pinot grigio. “Oh, I’m enjoying that!”

Ms Felin was in back-to-back meetings with media, travel advisors and Managing Director, VP of Sales & Marketing Asia Pacific Damian Perry and his staff at Hurtigruten’s Melbourne office ever since she arrived in Australia a week or so before.

Plus, she had to be up bright and early the next morning to speak at the ‘A Force for Good’ travel industry conference for International Women’s Day.

Not that she shows any sign of being stressed. Far from it – this laidback, eminently approachable woman is the epitome of the cool, calm and collected CEO.

Hurtigruten Hedda Felin CEO Hurtigruten Norway 158414 1920 Photo Espen Mills
The epitome of the cool, calm and collected CEO: Hedda Felin. Image: Espen Mills

In March 2021, Norwegian-born Felin joined the revered coastal cruise company Hurtigruten Norway where she heads up the operations of the entire Norwegian Coastal Express fleet.

She previously held various executive management positions with another leading Norwegian company, Statoil/Equinor, and has lived and worked in Scandinavia, France, the UK, Africa, Indonesia and China.

Separate brands: Hurtigruten Norway and HX

Hurtigruten ship MS Kong Harald Credit Stian Klo

Hurtigruten celebrated its 130th anniversary last year and is in the process of separating its operations into two separate brands: Hurtigruten Norway, which Ms Felin leads, and Hurtigruten Expeditions, now known as HX.

Hurtigruten Norway deploys nine ships that sail an incredible variety of itineraries around the country’s spectacular coastline, all year round.

The classic 12-day voyage north from Bergen, across the Arctic Circle to Kirkenes and back, is much the same as the route pioneered in 1893. The ships still deliver freight, mail and passengers to 34 towns and villages along the way, giving visitors an amazing insight into everyday life in remote coastal communities.

Other itineraries (there are 41 altogether) range from two to 17 days with some including day-long stays in ports. They are divided into three main categories: The Original Coastal Express, The North Cape Express and The Svalbard Express.

A Coastal Experience Team accompanies every voyage and, much like an expedition team, its members lead shore excursions and present onboard talks about everything from wildlife to social history and the Northern Lights.

Seasonal itineraries

Hurtigruten ship MS Richard With
MS Richard With against the Northern Lights. Image: Hurtigruten

Hurtigruten is famous for guaranteeing a Northern Lights sighting on 11-day or longer voyages during the auroral season (winter, September to March) – or giving you a free six- or seven-day Original Coastal Express Classic Voyage if you don’t spot them.

Scientists say that the ‘solar maximum’, occurring now until the end of 2025, will produce the most frequent and impressive displays of the Northern Lights to be seen for another decade. That’s a pretty compelling reason to book a Hurtigruten coastal cruise right now!

Itineraries vary with the seasons. From late May to early August is the time of the Midnight Sun north of the Arctic Circle and when Hurtigruten sails into Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From September to October, some ships visit pristine Hjørundfjord, one of Norway’s longest and most scenic fjords.

Hurtigruten MS Trollfjord cStian Klo
MS Trollfjord at sunset in the fjords. Image: Stian Klo

Guests from Australia and the APAC region are the fastest-growing sectors of Hurtigruten’s thriving market. And, surprisingly, the most popular time to go is during the Norwegian winter – and not just for the Northern Lights. 

“Maybe it’s a case of opposites attract. When Australia is sweltering, it’s ski season in Norway. Australians, like Norwegians, love an active, outdoor lifestyle and we share a sense of adventure in travel,” Ms Felin said.3

“Norway has natural attractions in abundance – glorious scenery, magnificent wildlife – a thriving cultural heritage, and great food! What’s not to love?”

Hyperlocal and proudly Norwegian

Hurtigruten Chef Astrid Nasslander Coastal Kitchen cYann Bougaran
Chef Astrid Nässlander, a culinary ambassador for Norway’s Coastal Kitchen menus. Image: Yann Bougaran

Ms Felin is proud to lead what is arguably Norway’s most recognised company. “We are part of the country’s history,” she said. “People wave to the ships when they see them passing.”

“All our crew are Norwegian and the ships are Norwegian-flagged. We pay Norwegian wages and there’s a wealth of talent across our onboard and onshore operations.

“Everyone speaks a Scandinavian language – that’s compulsory for safety regulations – and English, plus we also have German- and French-speaking cruises.

“The food we serve on board our ships is almost exclusively produced at the destinations where we stop. It’s a hyperlocal relationship.”

Hurtigruten Fishing Svolvar cAgurtxane Concellon
Fishing in Svolvar in the heart of Lofoten, Norway. Image: Agurtxane Concellon

Hurtigruten supports 50 producers year-round. They supply everything from super-fresh fish and seafood to reindeer meat, award-winning cheeses, herbs, vegetables and fruit and craft beer from Bergen.

“The indigenous Sami culture is also reflected in some of the dishes on board. On excursions in the Nordkyn Peninsula, guests can meet Sami people to learn about their everyday lives, taste their food and gain an understanding of their culture,” Ms Felin said.

Another recent partnership is with Lofoten Seaweed. This small female-led business produces the eco-friendly soap, shampoo and body lotions stocked on the ships as well as fresh and dried seaweed for use in a variety of dishes.

Sustainability and the future

Hurtigruten Sea Zero Concept Visualisation sails fully extended 3. Credit VARD Design
Render of Sea Zero concept. Image: VARD Design

Hurtigruten is a leading light in sustainable cruising. It has committed to upgrading the whole fleet by the end of 2025, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent and nitrous oxide by 80 per cent, and retrofitting ships with hybrid-powered systems.

The company has partnered with SINTEF, one of Europe’s largest independent research organisations, to explore energy efficiency and battery electric power solutions and build a zero-emission ship – ‘project Sea Zero‘ – for The Coastal Express by 2030.

Hurtigruten ship MS Kong Harald Credit Stian Klo
MS Kong Harald was upgraded to a greener hybrid ship in 2023. Image: Stian Klo

Meanwhile, controversy rages about the Norwegian government’s plans to ban cruise ships that don’t use alternative fuels, such as LNG, from sailing in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed fjords from 2026.

Hurtigruten welcomes the initiative and Ms Felin has said she would like to see stricter regulations applying to the whole coastline. After all, preserving Norway’s coastline, wildlife and people’s livelihoods is the driving force behind the company she leads.

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