kyoto calling
Port Press Club “Kyoto” Rotterdam

Mai Elmar

Port Woman of the Year 2004

In the mid nineties eyebrows were raised when Rotterdam was started to be promoted as a cruiseport. At the time critics said that cruiseliners would never choose Rotterdam as a place to moor, and that the market would only accept Amsterdam as the cruise port to be. MD Mai Elmar of Cruiseport Rotterdam and – recently – executive manager of Cruise Europe proved them wrong, although it took her quite some time to attract cruiseliners to the – until recently – largest cargo port of the world. The Rotterdan Port Press Club “Kyoto” recognized this achievement by naming Mai Elmar ‘Port Woman of the Year 2004’. She joins 23 male recipients of this highly-regarded award.


At the end of the 2004 cruise season mid September, Rotterdam had received 7 cruiseliners. The Cruise Terminal Rotterdam has been booked for the arrival of 21 ships, next year. City and port earned €450,000 per vessel, this year. Next year revenues of €7.5M are expected through the arrival of cruiseliners.

“This success does not mean that we can rely on more cruiseliners to call Rottterdam in 2006 and 2007”, Mai Elmar told Fairplay. “We have to work to achieve that, and be constantly alert on market developments and on the standard of our own services. According passengers ratings Rotterdam got a 7.75, an 8.5 and a 9, which is high. Passengers on board the ‘Westerdam’ (which called Rotterdam in July, Ed.) awarded Rotterdam the second best in ratings, after Barcelona. That is nice to hear from people who know the cruise market and from Americans, who really are critical consumers, but we also want to hear at which points people are dissatisfied to improve those.”

It is self-evident to Elmar that Rotterdam acts as cruise port and as freight port. “Rotterdam has always been a transatlantic port. You could say that the port was the ‘Schiphol’ (the Amsterdam Airport, Ed.) of the sixties. Ships remained in the port for a few days, which is why passengers had time to go shopping in the then new shopping centre Lijnbaan in the city centre. In the seventies it became cruise port as well. Before facilities and activities moved westwards, the port was literally within the city centre, which is why port activities were more visible at the time. Crews were changed in the city centre as well. In the time I managed Scandia Hotel, the hotel housed Scandinavia Airlines Maritime Office to handle crew changes, just as KLM did in their maritime office in Rotterdam.

“It is true that the cruisemarket particularly serves American passengers, although more and more Europeans discover the advantages of going on holiday on a cruiseliner. You only have to check in once, after which your ‘hotel’ is travelling with you. The impression of the old days has changed that sailing on board a cruiseship was something for the well to do or for wealthy emigrants. Today, virtually everybody travels and flies, and going on a cruise can be done at a reasonable price.”

Americans, who go on a cruise for the first time, choose a voyage with calls at ‘the leading capitals of the world’. which accounts for mooring in the ports of London, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, Elmar added. At least 80 per cent represent a repeaters market, to which ‘the other ports’ – such as Rotterdam – are promoted as ‘a new experience’. “We can prove that Amsterdam and Antwerp can be reached within an hour’s drive, and that there are two national airports – Schiphol and Brussels – and one regional airport (Rotterdam Airport) nearby. Rotterdam is known for its maritime services and as a safe, ISPS compliant port. That in itself is a marketing tool.”

Elmar can talk with some authority, knowing her background. “The maritime world has been poured into me”, she explains, proudly adding that she is descendant of two dynasties of Norwegian shipowners; her mother’s from Borøya and her father’s of Vestfold. “You can call me Norwegian Dutch, with the emphasis on ‘Dutch’. I moved to the Netherlands when I was 11. In later I stayed in the USA, and managed projects in Belgium, France, Spain, the UK and America. At home we talked Norwegian, Flemish, French and English. I am thankful to my mother, who thought it important that her children went to local schools so that we could learn the language of the country we stayed in, and get a better understanding of the culture. It provided me with a better understanding of the differences of cultures, and made me aware of the importance of being understood. That is why it has not been a problem to do business with people from various nationalities. Of course there are differences in approach of the European and of the American market. The essence in the USA is the use of one language, but that does not mean that an American from Arizona is similar to the one coming from California. You have to deal with every kind of people and serve them as best as you can. Fortunately that is understood in Rotterdam by everybody involved in the cruisemarket, taxi drivers included.”

© Janny Kok. This text was first published in Fairplay International Shipping Weekly and has been slightly updated.

Top of page

Upload date 10 Jan 2004

mai elmar
Name: Guri Mai Elmar (50)
Education: Grammar school (Rotterdamsch Lyceum), (in Norway) hotel management school, commercial and business organisation training.
Career: From 1991 to present: managing partner of Management Partners International in Rotterdam. Since four years MD of Cruiseport Rotterdam. Appointed executive manager of Cruise Europe, an umbrella marketing organisation of 85 cruiseports in North-West-Europe in June, 2004. Honorary Consul-General for Norway in the Netherlands since 22nd July, 2003.
Before 2003: at 29 years owner/manager of the then Scandia Hotel in Rotterdam (today Tulip Inn), MD of the Henriksen Group (bulk carriers/leisure, hotels, real estate).
Voluntary work: ‘founding mother’ honorary member of Stichting Ketelbinkie; a foundation which honours Rotterdammers, or Rotterdam-based organisations for outstanding efforts to support the maritime community. Chair of the Rotterdam Delfshaven Rotary Club.
Hobbies: Reading, cooking.