The end of an Era for Scanbalt Experience

The Scandinavian journey takes a new path for Scanbalt Experience. We find out more from founder Kristofer Andersson

The Scanbalt story

I have always been interested in exploring and experiencing new places. I studied tourism and worked a few years at my University in Karlstad, Sweden doing research about tourism, development and events. During my studies I took almost every chance to travel on different excursions to do research for longer periods in Europe, but also further afield like India and East Africa. After finishing my studies and worked at the University for some time I become more interested in starting my own project most likely a hostel somewhere like Asia.

In 2004 however I went around the UK visiting some friends and exploring. I wanted to explore the highlands of Scotland and found a flyer for Macbackpackers (a tour company). I had some amazing days going around Scotland with great driver-guide and a good group. Coming back to Sweden I realized no local company was doing that kind of budget trips for young people in Scandinavia. I found some international companies, but I found prices and itineraries not too impressive. The following three years I travelled around Scandinavia and the Baltic states researching, making contacts, trying activities, checking different places etc. I got a minibus and made some test trips around Scandinavia throughout the summer. It was interesting and also challenging since I had no experience of the tour industry, so I learned by doing it.

On those trips I met expats based in London who really liked my ideas and tour concept. So they convinced me to get over to London and check out events there like the TNT Travel show which was really the place to be if you wanted to reach out to the expats. Next Travel show we had a stand and it worked out well promotion wise, I made a lot of contacts and it was good fun as well. I remember the epic after parties ha-ha! In 2007 I convinced TNT Magazine to send a writer to our Christmas trip to Lapland. I was kind of nervous, but the trip went very well and the story in the magazine gave us a great push and there was big interest.

Things developed but I also realized that it was hard to get enough passengers to establish as a stable company financially. At this time there were a lot of new companies popping up in Europe trying to develop different backpacker trips. Eurohop, Ze bus, Eastern Trekker. Many disappeared after a while. Financial crises, bigger companies expanded and took the market or bought the small rivals.

Scanbalt succeeded to stay alive partly because of small overhead costs and flexibility. We tried many different tour products and found trip styles the bigger companies did not offer like Lapland winter tours, Visa Free travels to Russia and our tours also had a really good value. Very important was also that we had a big growing market on international students in Northern Europe. Students staying for less than a year but wanted to travel as much as possible during the holidays. We developed a strong network of partners like international societies at the universities

What also made it possible was our great road and office team. In our office team in Tallinn there been staff doing a great work during many years and truly loyal as well. Our road team been a great mix of Northern Europeans but when we needed more Tour managers, we also recruited persons from all over the world including South Africa, New Zeeland and Australia. Earlier I wanted mainly tour managers with a strong local connection but in the end of the day most important is that they do a great job.

When the company started to grow, I also met my wife, actually ten years ago this June. She is from the Netherlands but both of us lived on Södermalm the hipster area in Stockholm at that time. Now we have three kids the oldest is seven years old. It’s been great with a growing family but challenging as well running a travel business at the same time. My wife has shown an incredible patience. During the ten years we moved between Stockholm and Tallinn but also tried out Spain before we returned to Stockholm. We are both nomads, but we realized kids need some stability when starting school. But who knows maybe we live in Australia next summer….

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Scanbalt on Team-building in Spain June 2017. Represented are Kristofer at the far left and Piero, Darja, Karmen, Kaia and Olivia from the Tallinn office.

And now you are selling?

Yes it was decided in January, but I ran the business until July 1st. Already a few years ago I had discussions with companies interested in a purchase or merger but it did not happen. After 13 great years with Scanbalt I started to feel like it was time for a new move and have more time with the family. I am probably more of an entrepreneur than the typical CEO, I appreciate building up operations and develop. Some time ago it was a new possibility and after comparing some different possibilities I came to a commercial agreement with Timetravels from Finland. They are maybe not so well known for the TNT reader but Timetravels are our main competitor on the student market in Northern Europe. Last year 60-70% of our passengers been international students and Timetravels know that market, the destinations and Scanbalt operations very well. So selling to Timetravels means an convenient transmission but important was their view on our operations and our team who will stay with the new management. They will run operations under the Timetravels brand so Scanbalt Experience will not remain.

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Looking back what will you miss the most and best memories?

Definitely my team and many of our partners. Its been an absolute privilege working with so many skilled and great people. Some have been around from the very start of the company and contributed just as much as me to Scanbalt during the years!

The first few years were of course very special and lots of fun when everything is new, and you start to shape the company. Back then I was of course more involved in operations also as a tour manager. Specially the trips to Lapland at Christmas and new Years with many Aussies and Kiwis was lots of fun. I also spent a lot of time in London living with friends or hostels while promoting Scanbalt. I try to stay in touch with people from that time, but many went back Down Under, but yeah now I will have more time to travel myself.

What’s next?

After being very busy for so many years it’s actually a was bit hard to take it easy I realized after setting the deal with TimeTravels I started to look at new projects both business and other things but I really try to have some time with family and relax, I also have some catching up to do in the gym and the running track.

I definitely see myself involved in travel industry in some role. Until now I studied tourism, I worked with tourism research and been running Scanbalt Experience. Tourism business and youth travel specifically is not only my expertise but something I’m passionate about. I’ve been running my own business for years so in the future I am probably more interested in other roles in companies and supporting entrepreneurs starting up etc. For some time I will be supporting Timetravels if needed and I will not be involved in operations in direct competition with their operations. I feel good when active so I will figure something out to do!

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