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Business related items going on in the Southwest Minneapolis Area.

Slump buster: Borton travel company lands major cruise contract Exclusive international deal expected to boost Kenny-based business

By Robyn Repya

Ask anyone at Borton Overseas about the status of the travel industry post-9/11 and they'll wince. "People put off traveling a year or two because of the economy," said Andrea Berger, Borton's Scandinavian specialist.

General Manager Bob Swan said the 5412 Lyndale Ave. S. travel company persevered by booking its unconventional trips to Antarctica or Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Business began picking up last summer, but in November, Borton got a major year-end bonus: an exclusive contract with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, a luxury, specialty international cruise line based in the United Kingdom.

The new business partnership, effective Jan. 1, makes the 12-employee Borton responsible for all cruise sales, marketing and reservations in North America. Swan said he expects Borton's business to increase by 25 percent, and the Olsen company predicts its North American sales will double.

"It's new and exciting for us," Swan said. "This contributes to our business model year-round."

Borton Overseas Borton Overseas entered the Minneapolis travel scene in 1985, when Borton Volvo dealer Kjell Bergh purchased Vanstrum Travel, started by a Swedish immigrant in Minneapolis in 1894.

According to the company's Web site, Vanstrum Travel specialized in Scandinavian travel, and one claim to fame is having sold two tickets for the Titanic's return voyage.

Olsen doesn't need such notoriety; it has been around since 1848 and is still in the Olsen family. "Other big companies have been gobbled up," said David Farrant, Fred. Olsen's manager of international sales.

Olsen -- which now has 80 employees on land and 800 on the sea -- has a fleet of three cruise ships: the Black Watch, the Braemar and the Black Prince.

The ships carry approximately 750 passengers -- far fewer than larger cruise companies such as Carnival, which handle between 2,500 and 3,000 passengers per liner.

By having smaller ships, Farrant said it provides travelers with a more intimate setting and also allows for travel to unusual, harder-to-reach seaports such as Antigua, Granada and the British Virgin Islands.

Farrant said Olsen also focuses more on ambiance and food -- typically catering to a 50-plus crowd. "It caters to people who want fine, traditional cruising," Borton's Swan said.

Because Olsen cruises are different, itineraries and costs also differ from many larger cruise chains. Swan said larger cruise line trips are also seven to nine days long, while an Olsen cruise is as long as 14 nights.

Swan said Olsen cruises, including meals and port taxes and charges, can cost between $150 and $175 per night, per person -- as much as $2,450 for a 14-night voyage.

While larger cruise lines advertise deals for week-long cruises for less than $600, Swan said, "For the value (Olsen's prices) are highly favorable," he said.

An unusual deal Borton's relationship with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines began like many of its partnerships with international cruise companies. Farrant said, two years ago, Borton began taking North American reservations for Olsen.

Farrant said the thing that stood out about Borton was its expertise and market penetration for specialty vacations (Borton specializes in Scandinavian and African travel). The cruise line soon wanted a more significant partnership. "Our families joined," Farrant said with a grin.

Swan said the partnership is ideal for Borton, too. He said from spring to fall, his agency is busy booking trips to Africa and Scandinavia; Olsen cruises fit perfectly closing the winter gap in business, when trips to Scandinavia are down.

Swan said Borton can now offer more customers more choices of vacation locations. "We get to assist customers from all over America that will go to more than 200 ports around the world," he said.

Farrant spent a week in Minneapolis during the Thanksgiving holiday training the Borton staff. He said training went well, and so far Borton's new marketing and sales pitch for his company seems very well received. "Everything seems to be falling into place," he said.

For more information, call Borton Overseas at 800-843-0602 or visit www.borton.com/ overseas or www.fredolsencruises.co.uk.