Tourism slumps, hotel stars dumped

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Hotel occupancy figures from Norway’s important summer season show an overall decline nationwide, with Northern Norway hit surprisingly hard.  Trade Minister Trond Giske, meanwhile, has given up plans to rank Norwegian hotels by a star system, after spending around NOK 10 million to develop a hotel star system that few if any in the hotel industry wanted.

The spectacular scenery of Northern Norway didn't manage to attract nearly as many tourists this summer as it did last year, with overnight stays down 15 percent in July. Here, the Lyngen Alps east of Tromsø. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The spectacular scenery of Northern Norway didn’t manage to attract nearly as many tourists this summer as it did last year, with overnight stays down 15 percent in July. Here, the Lyngen Alps east of Tromsø. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

New figures from state statistics bureau SSB show that hotels in Norway had 100,000 fewer overnight stays in July, the country’s most important summer holiday month. The total number of overnight stays declined 4 percent nationwide, with a 2.1 percent decline in foreign visitors and a 5 percent decline in the domestic market.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) noted that the declines in Norway’s most important markets were considerably higher, with visitors from Germany down 13 percent, visitors from The Netherlands down 26 percent and those from Spain down 31 percent. The double-digit declines were largely attributed to the ongoing economic hard times and high unemployment in Europe.

Growing numbers of cruiseships in the fjords are a threat to the Norwegian hotels where tourists used to say. Now many simply sail in, and sail out. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Some areas, though, like here at Flåm in southwestern Norway, enjoyed increased numbers of visitors, many of them from China. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

There also was a 21 percent decline in visitors from Japan but that was largely offset by a huge increase in the number of visitors from China. They were up fully 90 percent, with DN reporting that tourists from China now account for more tourists than those from Italy, Spain and Japan.

Overnight stays at rental cabins, hostels and campgrounds were also down, by 10 percent in July even though the national trekking association DNT (Den Norske Turistforeningen) reported a record summer at its mountain cabins and lodges.

“It’s a very mixed picture, with large geographical differences also,” Per Arne Tuftin, tourism director for Innovation Norway, told DN. He noted that tourism in the mountain and fjord areas of Vestlandet (southwestern Norway) was strong, with the Flåm area, for example, reporting big crowds this summer. Tuftin attributes much of the business to the Chinese tourists who mostly visit Oslo and the fjords, not least the famed Flåmsbane train line.

Northern Norway, which has reported a boom in tourism in recent years, showed a surprising decline this year, with hotel stays down 15 percent. Visitors from abroad were down 17 percent, just months after hotels in Tromsø, for example, were reporting a huge increase in winter tourists keen on seeing the Northern Lights. Some travel industry officials were wondering if hotel marketing departments forgot about the Midnight Sun amidst all the Northern Lights promotion.

Outgoing Trade Minister Trond Giske, whose Labour Party lost government power last week, has also had to drop a project he favoured that would have imposed a star-system on Norwegian hotels. The hotels themselves reportedly lost interest in the project, while some industry experts feel that Norwegian hotels generally lack the high levels of service found of "five-star" hotels in Asia or the US, for example, so a star system in Norway could be misleading. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Outgoing Trade Minister Trond Giske had to drop a project he favoured that would have imposed a star-system on Norwegian hotels. The hotels themselves reportedly lost interest in the project, while some industry experts feel that Norwegian hotels generally lack the high levels of service found at “five-star” hotels in Asia or the US, for example, so a star system in Norway could have been misleading. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The decline comes despite programs in which Innovation Norway often arranges and pays for foreign travel writers to visit Norway, in the hopes they’ll write positive stories about their trips when they get back home. DN reported earlier this summer that while such “freebies” raise ethical concerns and won’t be accepted by most Norwegian media, even some writers from such respected publications as The Guardian in the UK have accepted trips that were paid for by the state tourism agency Visit Norway. In a Guardian story featuring Norway’s summer music festivals, no mention of the state sponsorship was made, wrote DN.

The decline in tourism this year can also be blamed on Norway’s high prices, although Tuftin claimed earlier this summer that visitors coming to Norway “know that it’s expensive,” especially for food and drink. Tuftin told Aftenposten’s magazine that  “We try to get them to see Norway as a priceless experience.” Some tour organizers are now targeting the exclusive segment of the market that appeals to visitors with big budgets. Among those visiting Norway this past summer: Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his family, Russian businessmen, some Arab princes and various American celebrities.

Meanwhile, Norwegian hotels won’t be adopting a star-system meant to rank their quality. Only five of Norway’s 1,050 hotels had agreed to join the star system, with none of the large local hotel chains willing to fund a star classification system.

“I see that the whole project resembles more of a black hole than a star,” Trade Minister Trond Giske admitted to DN last spring after investing around NOK 10 million since it was launched in 2007. Now he’s decided it won’t be possible to go further with the project.

“In the beginning, it was the players themselves who wanted a star system and we followed up,” Giske told DN in his own defense. “We see that other countries in Europe have done the same, but interest from the hotels has declined considerably. Therefore the project is being put on ice.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • Robert Cumming

    ‘Meanwhile, Norwegian hotels won’t be adopting a star-system meant to rank their quality. Only five of Norway’s 1,050 hotels had agreed to join the star system, with none of the large local hotel chains willing to fund a star classification system.’

    Probably because there isn’t a single property in Norway worthy of 5 stars and very few that are 4 stars. Overpriced tiny rooms with youth hostel like service is the best you can expect here!

  • Comment_approved

    Quite simply, Norway is a rip off. When you are on holiday, you want to be able to eat and drink out. In Norway, you quite simply, don’t get enough for your buck. Yes it’s picturesque . But there are many pretty places around, where you will get good weather, nice hotels and more affordable attractions.

    Getting around is not cheap, and public transport insufficient. Thinking about Oslo, the museums etc are also very poor by international standards. I once went to the teknisk museum, and it was really not good. The museums at Bygdøy, don’t do enough either.

    • Robert Neve

      Not only are they not very good but a lot of them only have material and information in Norwegian. Not very tourist friendly.

      • Kanon25

        The underlying problem is that a lot of them are government run. They dont have the in-house competence to bring about major change in ther way the operate – and if you are a consultant and have good ideas and tools to help them you cant just pitch to them and sell them your ideas or services. Instead you are required to to participate in a bidding process that results in the winner making zero profit.

        So the mediocrity goes on and the tourism suffers. Heia Norge…

    • Tom Just Olsen

      I see absolutely no reason why tourism should become ‘cheap’ here in Norway. It’s cheap enough. More than 4 million tourists visits Norway each year. Most of them old people by cruise ship. They don’t even buy an icecream. Nor do the huge flock of fishing Germans in their camping cars leave much money behind either. They smuggle huge volumes of frozen fish to keep themselves fed through a winter. The ‘value added’ turnover from tourism is less than 80 B NOK – less than 5% of our GDP. Having in mind that we spend 50 B NOK on roads and rails in Norway reducing prices could bring the tourist business to a loss on a national level. That hotels are closing is due to changing travel patterns. Not only among tourists, but among us Norwegians too.
      Tourists? Rip them off! : )

      • Robert Neve

        That’s the point. NORWAY IS TO EXPENSIVE. Of course tourists don’t even buy an ice cream because it costs £5. That would be the same as asking you to pay around 300nok for one. Of course you wouldn’t. Hotels in Oslo cost more for a basic budget hotel with no breakfast and a shared bathroom than standard hotels in London. And I have heard stavanger are even worse.

        If Norway seriously wants tourism then it has to deal with the obscene prices otherwise just forget it and don’t bother with a tourist trade.

        • Flladi Zilja

          Totally agree, have been living in Norway for two years now, but when it comes to holidays, I rather go to Paris or Rome or Barcelona or any other big city in Europe. Much cheaper, definitely more to offer in terms of food and architecture. The only time I go around Norway as a “tourist”, I have a camping bag with me.

  • frenk

    Its just too expensive. I wouldn’t recommend anywhere in Stavanger to go out for a meal! Not much to see or do either unless you like wandering about or cycling which will ‘encourage’ your appetite…which will then empty your pocket . Good golf course though – Stavanger Golfklubb…good facilities at Forus/Sola. Service – well, the number one rule for Norwegian businesses it to employ as few people as possible because its so expensive so the service will be particularly poor….etc.

  • Peter Hoe

    …keep throwing all those oil dollars around Norway!!!
    You do it so well, without much consideration & measure for accountability.
    With so much round table talks & debate that you’re famous for, I’m personally quite surprised with all these ill-devised plans & proposals.
    In Malaysia, Innovation Norway is selling the country in a Shopping Mall next to caviar in a tube & oil & gas. How ingenious is that!!!
    The average Mall shopper cannot afford a holiday in Norway.
    Clearly they have wasted precious funds targeting the wrong group.
    There isn’t one clear Tourism Campaign around for years with a concrete message projecting the country & identifying the brand “Norway”!!!

  • Travis Cleveland

    I first visited Norway in 1953, so am aware it has changed and now not a good bang for the buck where food, drink, housing and services are concerned. A grand daughter, playing fotball in Kristiansand 3 years ago, needed a haircut and was charged $150 for a 2 inch cut. She was irate, deemed it a rip, for she could get the same in Austin, Texas, for $8.

  • frenk

    Budget quality….but not budget price!

  • Comment_approved

    I’m feeling jubilant today – must be because it’s Friday – but with all the moans from us expats you have to wonder what we’re all doing here! Norway – we love you really!

    • Robert Neve

      There’s always pros and cons with everywhere. For us clearly Norway has more pros but when we see cons one still feels the need to point it out. Particularly when half the time the reasons and/or solutions are so clear

      • frenk

        Its just a ‘rip-off’…and…for some reason…Norwegians are living with it….!

  • Kanon25

    A “star” system depends on functioning competition. Most of these hotels have little effective competition in their locations. As such, participating any star system would amount to voluntarily improving the standard of their facilities and their services.

    Or to put it in plain English, these Norwegian hotel owners had no intention of ceasing the practice of overcharging tourist for run down rooms, bad food and amateur service. But they will continue to complain that they don’t make enough money and that there are not enough tourists coming to Norway. Then they blame the govt and innovation Norway. Before going off on lengthy winter vacation to stay in very good hotels all across Europe and asia, where of course they only to stay want four and five star hotels.

    If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny…

    At some point Innovation Norway and co have to realise that they are dealing with massive cultural problems, not business ones. This sort of thing will take at least a generation to overcome. To go around boasting about innovation programmes, a “knowledge economy” – and promising instant results – is sheer folly.