Fewer foreign tourists check in

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Norwegian hotel operators suffered a noticeable decline in their number of overnight guests from several European countries this summer, including some that traditionally have played a major role in the tourism market. One hotel in particular is struggling to win back visitors after last year’s terrorist attacks.

There was a marked decline in the number of foreign visitors checking into Norwegian hotels this summer. PHOTO: Views and News

New figures from state statistics bureau SSB show that the number of visitors from Spain fell by 29 percent in July, while there also were 27 percent fewer Italians checking in at Norwegian hotels. The decline was expected, given the euro crisis and high unemployment that’s plaguing both countries.

The trend extended much farther north, however, than tourism industry officials had predicted. Overnight guests from France fell by 12 percent and there also was a marked decline in visitors from two of Norway’s most important tourism markets, Germany and the Netherlands. Dutch visitors fell by 11 percent and Germans by 7 percent.

“The decline from Spain and Italy was expected, but it worries us that the declines from the Netherlands and Germany were so big,” Per-Arne Tuftin, tourism director for Innovation Norway told newspaper Aftenposten. “The numbers are weaker than what we thought we’d see.”

The large national organization representing hotel and tourism operators, NHO Reiseliv, blames Norway’s strong currency, which effectively boosts Norwegian prices even higher than normal, along with the financial unrest in Europe. “We have the highest currency rate measured against the euro in 10 years, and it’s clear that’s affecting the competitiveness of the Norwegian operators,” Kristin Gyldenskog of NHO Reiseliv told Aftenposten.

SSB’s numbers for July, traditionally seen as the height of the Norwegian foreign tourist season, showed a total of 5.3 million overnight stays at Norwegian hotels, an overall decline of 2 percent compared to July 2011. The fall-off was greatest among foreign visitors, down an overall 4 percent, while the decline in Norwegians checking in was 1 percent.

There were a few bright spots, with an increase in visitors from Sweden and Great Britain along with a jump in overseas visitors from, for example, Japan and South Korea.

July 22 effect
Among the hotels having a quieter summer than usual was the historic but recently expanded Sundvolden Hotel northwest of Oslo. It suddenly gained worldwide attention last year when it served as the gathering spot for survivors of the massacre on the nearby island of Utøya on July 22, 2011, and now it seems some longtime guests and companies holding seminars have hesitated to return.

According to the family-owned hotel’s annual report, revenues and results are running under budget after the July 22 events left “a negative effect in the market.” Hotel officials, wrote owner Tord Moe Laeskogen, “are working actively to normalize conditions and return to everyday life.”

Laeskogen said he thinks the hotel emerged stronger from the July 22 ordeal, but admitted that “some guests think it’s difficult to return to the hotel,” because it reminds them of the attacks. He told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that he think the one-year anniversary of the attacks this summer marked a turning point and hopes the hotel can now move forward.

The family has invested NOK 145 million in Sundvolden Hotel since 2009  in a major expansion to 257 rooms, making it the largest free-standing hotel in the Oslo area. Competition from mountain hotels in, for example, Hallingdal and Buskerud is tough and “everyone is struggling with profitability,” Laeskogen said. He told DN that bookings for the autumn were showing some improvement, though, “and we all must be optimistic.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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