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TOURISM

Are Norway’s top attractions at risk of over-tourism?

Norway's tourism industry is showing signs of recovery following the pandemic. However, as international visitors return to tourist hotspots, the country is again debating the pros and cons of mass tourism.

Pictured is Pulpit Rock in Norway.
The Local Norway takes a look at whether Norway has an over-tourism problem. Pictured is Pulpit Rock. Photo by Jordi Vich Navarro on Unsplash

Nationwide lockdowns hit Norway’s vibrant tourism industry hard in 2020 and 2021. However, it seems that the effects of Covid-19 on Norwegian tourism are likely to be short-lived. 

According to recent data published by Telenor, the national mobility level (that is, the movement pattern in society) is already at 90 percent of what it was before the pandemic broke out. 

This pattern is also visible when it comes to foreign visitor figures at Norway’s most famous tourist locations – Pulpit Rock/Preikestolen (+68 percent this year compared to 2021), Geiranger (+448 percent), Træna (+389 percent), Trolltunga (+68 percent), and Nordkapp (+301 percent), among others. 

Pulpit Rock and challenges faced by locals

Pulpit Rock is one of the most well-known natural attractions in Norway. Situated 604 meters above the majestic Lysefjord, it offers visitors an awe-inspiring mountain trek. In 2019, the site registered its highest number of visitors ever recorded.

However, the attraction’s popularity has downsides – tourist safety concerns, capacity challenges, trail attrition, and littering. 

In July of this year, the national broadcaster (NRK) once again reported that roads in the area were heavily congested, leading to security issues and multiple roadside assistance interventions. 

Measures to tackle the issues – including limiting the number of tour buses allowed at the site’s parking lot – have been introduced even before the pandemic started to spread the number of visiting hikers across the day, but it seems that some challenges persist.

Ronny Brunvollhead of Visit Svalbard and a veteran tourism industry expert, told The Local that financing is critical in finding the correct answers to peak-season challenges.

“The challenge is how to spread tourism over time, cover the costs of externalities, and finance the adaptation and construction of roads and toilets. In part, this is addressed by Norway’s new national strategy.

“But also locally, there are good examples. When it comes to Lysefjord and Preikestolen, they tried not to limit the number of visitors but to make the footprint more sustainable. So, it’s possible, but adequate solutions need financing. Some on a local level, others on a national level,” Brunvoll pointed out.

Geiranger and Longyearbyen – cruise ship conundrum 

Norway’s fjords are a popular cruise destination. Pre-Covid, cruise ships contributed to unprecedented levels of tourism in the country, with record development in cruise-related tourism – seven consecutive years of growth up until 2019 – and a record number of cruise passengers. 

For the cruise season of 2019, around 2,000 cruise ships carried 850,000 cruise passengers along with a record 3.6 million of day tourists to Norwegian ports, according to Innovation Norway figures.

Popular cruise destinations such as Geiranger and Longyearbyen have been struggling to keep up with highly concentrated cruise tourism. 

Telenor’s data for 2022 shows that Geiranger has experienced the most significant increase in the proportion of visitors from abroad on a national level – an increase of 448 percent compared to last year.

“The issue is that, at some locations in Norway, during some periods of the year, there are mass tourism tendencies. Still, I don’t think Norway has a mass tourism problem. For example, a cruise ship bringing 4,000-5,000 visitors to Longyearbyen is challenging. Popular destinations like Lofoten also have 5-6 weeks of high season with a similar tendency. But that is just for a part of the year. When it comes to the rest of the year, the problem becomes too few tourists,” Brunvoll said.

“Cruise ship tourism has to be better regulated. It could be a resource for Norway’s tourism, but it has to be controlled and appropriate to local facilities. When it comes to Svalbard, we said that facilities don’t support such ships, and that will be solved. Authorities proposed a maximum number of 750 people (crew and passengers) so that it can match the destination. Such an approach should be implemented all over Norway so that we can have solutions that are a better fit for communities,” he added.

New tourism strategy

In 2020, the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Fisheries commissioned Innovation Norway to develop a general strategy for the development of Norwegian tourism. 

Roughly a year later, the National Tourism Strategy 2030 – aimed at creating year-round employment and promoting sustainable development – was published. 

Haaken Christensen, Senior Adviser for Sustainable and Nature Tourism at Innovation Norway, told The Local that all of Norway’s tourism efforts are based on sustainability principles.

“The new strategy is based on principles of sustainable tourism. We’re spending our money wisely while trying to lead tourism in the right direction and avoiding over-tourism so that vulnerable local destinations are better prepared. 

“We have a sustainability certification system a few years in the running, and more and more destinations are going for it. That leads to a strategic shift toward sustainability. Of course, now we have interesting discussions on how to prepare our nature for increased traffic on trails, parking lots, gravel roads in the mountains… That will feed into the political discussion that is going on at the moment. 

“We’re trying to be ahead of developments and trends so that we are prepared when things and trends change and new destinations become popular. We’re trying to have tools in place to steer tourism in a sustainable manner,” Christensen pointed out. 

Is there enough political will to tackle key issues?

However, while Norway has been a trailblazer in promoting sustainable tourism over the years, the country has faced a lack of political will when tackling some of the industry-specific issues.

The new strategy also points to this problem: 

“There has been no political will to accommodate the industry’s desire to improve management capability at destinations. Cooperation between public and private stakeholders must be reinforced during a time of such rapid growth. As a result, tourism in Norway has experienced clear growing pains over the last few years… This is particularly true of the handling of volume growth at iconic natural attractions, in harbours welcoming lots of cruise arrivals or charming districts visited by lots of people.” – National Tourism Strategy 2030, p10.

Brunvoll also points to the importance of mobilising political will behind the strategy.

“The new strategy for tourism, developed in cooperation with tourism organisations, regional and local communities, and tourism businesses, sets forward a good direction, sustainability-wise. However, political will and effort need to be put into it. Without that, nothing will happen. The new government officially declared that it would look into the strategy and start working on seeing tourism as a proper business. This has been stated as a priority, and in writing, so that is positive,” he noted.

However, as Norwegian tourism is still recovering from the industry-wide shockwaves generated by the pandemic, finding a middle way between prioritising business recovery and upholding sustainability principles could be demanding.

Ingunn Sørnes, Special Adviser for Tourism at Innovation Norway, sees a certain level of risk in this area.

“The tourism industry has been through the COVID pandemic and is – of course – eager to get on their feet again. This could lead, maybe, to some disregard for principles that businesses previously valued. To some extent, it is hard to be based on values when it comes down to income,” Sørnes stated.

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SAS

Scandinavian airline SAS plans to launch electric planes in 2028 

Despite a number of economic challenges, airline SAS has announced an agreement with a Swedish company that will enable it to purchase electric aircraft and add them to its fleet. 

Scandinavian airline SAS plans to launch electric planes in 2028 

SAS has signed an agreement with Swedish company Heart Aerospace that could see it operating electric planes from 2028, the airline said in a press statement.

The model of plane that SAS would purchase from Heart Aerospace seats 30 passengers and has a range of 200 kilometers, SAS wrote.

“Along with the entire industry, we are responsible for making air travel more sustainable,” CEO of SAS Anko van der Werff said in the statement.

“SAS is dedicated to transforming air travel so future generations can continue to connect the world and enjoy the benefits of travel – but with a more sustainable footprint,” he said.

The aircraft will be installed with a hybrid system enabling them to double their range, SAS wrote.

“This has the potential to be a significant step on SAS’ sustainability journey, enabling zero-emission flights on routes within Scandinavia,” the press release stated. 

SAS has previously been involved in the development of another electric aircraft, the ES-30, which it partnered with Heart Aerospace on in 2019.

“The electric airplane will be a good supplement to our existing fleet, serving shorter routes in Denmark, Norway and Sweden in a more sustainable way,” van der Werff said.

READ MORE: SAS cancels 1,700 flights in September and October 

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