Gotland Company is Sweden’s oldest passenger ferry line, operating to and from Gotland since 1865. We are a group of companies within shipping, tourism and property development. Read more about our history and development over the years.
Gotland Company (Gotlandsbolaget) was founded under the name ‘Ångfartygsbolaget Gotland’. The first vessel was called Wisby and came from Motala Mekaniska Verkstad. At 130 feet long, she sailed at 11 knots, corresponding to a 13 hour long journey from Stockholm via Södertälje Canal to Visby.
By the 1870s, three ferries had been put into service on the Gotland route. The second vessel, called Gotland, joined the route in 1868, and the third, Thjelvar, came into service in 1876. At this time, the shipping line had a contract with the Swedish postal service (Posten) to carry mail between the Swedish mainland and Gotland, and over the decade the operation grew to include more ships and an increasingly important community role.
With the new passenger ship S/S Hansa, Gotland Company made the journey more of an experience during the voyage, as passengers now could enjoy food in the ferry’s dining room. The 1890s also saw Gotland Company form the Gotland Tourist Association, which has been a key player in the island’s tourism industry over the years.
At the end of the 19th century, the company was transformed into a limited company.
World War I broke out in 1914, causing a shortage of coal for the ships’ steam boilers and for the war years, wood had to replace coal at times.
Passenger traffic fell dramatically as a result of the war.
The ships Drotten and Gotland entered service in the 1930s – they were modern for their time and sailed at 11.5 and 13 knots respectively. The latter carried over 700 passengers and had a radio telephone. The same decade saw the advent of the first cheap tours by rail and sea, with bus transport expanded to enable onward travel from the train stations.
Everything changed in the summer of 1939, with the outbreak of World War II. Fuel shortages returned and several vessels were laid up on land, while those remaining at sea supported the Swedish Armed Forces and their military personnel stationed on Gotland. Five years later, towards the end of the war, Sweden and Gotland Company suffered a heavy loss when one of the ships, S/S Hansa, sank. The vessel was hit by a torpedo fired from a Soviet submarine, killing 84 people.
The business now began investing heavily in tourism on the island and nowhere was advertised as widely as Gotland.
A decade after the end of the war, demand for travel between the mainland and Gotland increased. Gotland Company’s new ferry Christopher Polhem meant that passengers for the first time could drive their cars onboard the ferry. Over the next decade, the number of ferries in service rose and the capacity developed so that both cars and lorries could come onboard.
In the early 1960s, the business was streamlined, and the company’s cargo ships, and tourist facilities were sold off. At the same time, the company changed its name to Rederiaktiebolaget Gotland, or Gotlandsbolaget (Gotland Company) as it is now generally known.
At the start of the 1970s, Gotland Company invested in the most modern ferries of the day (M/S Visby and M/S Gotland). The ships had a larger car deck and higher passenger capacity to meet the growth in driving holidays.
This decade, Gotland further strengthen its position as a destination, with visitor numbers doubling compared to 1960. Tourism became an increasingly important source of income and employment. The travel company GotlandsResor was formed in 1972 and became a wholly owned subsidiary of Gotland Company in 1991.
With interest in Gotland set to continue into the 1980s, two new ferries were ordered at the end of the 1970s. M/S Visby V entered service in 1980 on the Gotland route, while the other ship was chartered out and later sold. M/S Visby V added further passenger capacity, with space for over 2,000 people on board. With these new ferries in service, passenger numbers rose to 878,600 in the year 1980. Vehicle capacity also rose to over 500 cars or 50 trucks and 125 cars. This increased capacity allowed tourism to continue flourishing, with a leap in visitor numbers of over 200 per cent between 1970 and 1980.
In 1982, Gotland Company was listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange, where shares were traded until 2004.
In 1994, Gotland Company’s subsidiary Gotland Hotels & Properties (formerly GotlandsResor) opened Hamnhotellet by the Port of Visby. The hotel was built from modules originally used for the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer (Norway).
Traffic on the Gotland route grew even more strongly in the 1990s. By the end of the century, over a million people were taking the Gotland ferry each year. Around this time the company also invested in product tankers and bulk carrier services.
The ferry route to Gotland was run by a different operator from 1988 until the end of 1997. During that time Gotland Company chartered its ships to other destinations and operators. In 1998, we founded Destination Gotland and took back responsibility for the Gotland route. The next year we saw the first high-speed ferry – HSC Gotlandia – enter service, almost halving the crossing time.
In the 2000s, Gotland Company invested in two high-speed, high-capacity ferries: M/S Visby (VI) and M/S Gotland (VII). From the early 2000s, the company only operated high-speed ferries on the route – both ships operated at a speed of 28.5 knots, the same speed achieved on the crossing today. Gotland also continued its rapid ascent as a popular destination, with over 1.3 million passengers travelling in the year 2000.
The Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) once again chose Destination Gotland to operate the Gotland route from 2017. In its tender, Gotland Company had clearly outlined its commitment to new vessels with a modern and more eco-friendly means of propulsion. Gotland Company ordered new ships that could run on gas in the late 2010s, and they were delivered a few years later.
Hamnhotellet was expanded in 2009 and 2013 to over 200 rooms and became part of the Scandic hotel chain. The decade also saw Gotland enterprise really take off – in 2010 there were around 12.6 new start-ups for every 1000 inhabitants, a figure only Stockholm could beat.
In 2010, Gotland Company also set up the subsidiary Gotland Tankers, which at the time had 14 product tankers in its fleet carrying processed or refined products all over the world.
By 2010, passenger numbers had climbed to over 1.6 million, and Gotland Company had increased its presence locally.
The goal of Gotland Company is to have climate-neutral crossings by 2045 and in recent years the company has reached several key milestones. The two gas-powered ships M/S Visby and M/S Gotland entered service in 2020 and 2021. They can run on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and biogas (LBG), which cuts emissions of carbon dioxide, sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide. Late summer 2021 also saw the launch of Gotland Company’s new ferry line Hansa Destinations between Nynäshamn and Rostock in northern Germany. Hansa Destinations operates both cargo and passenger services, providing travellers with a new way to get to the continent. The aim of the new ferry line is to shift cargo from land to sea.
The pandemic had a major impact on travel patterns, but in 2021 Gotland’s status as a tourist destination was firmly reasserted. It saw Sweden’s biggest increase in visitors, which also brought a strong recovery in passenger numbers for Destination Gotland.
In total, close to 885,000 people visited Gotland, and it was named Sweden’s number one travel destination.