Summer season straightens up

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Norway’s short but important summer tourist season is shaping up to be more profitable than expected. While Norwegians are winding up their holidays and getting back to work, foreign visitors are still arriving, demand for moderate accommodation is high and some attractions are reporting more visitors than during last year’s record season.

“There are some parts of the travel industry that aren’t doing very well, but other parts are in high gear,” Audun Pettersen, head of the tourism division of Innovation Norway, told newspaper Aftenposten .

About 40 percent of Norway’s tourism-related businesses (including hotels and attractions, for example) are reporting growth this summer, another 40 percent are seeing declines and 20 percent are steady.

Camping grounds, hostels and relatively low-priced hotels, some museums and sightseeing tour companies are among those reporting gains. Other hotels, the Tusenfryd amusement park and attractions including the Maihaugen open-air museum in Lillehammer and composer Edvard Grieg’s home in Bergen are among those reporting declines.Tourism industry officials note that last year was a record year, as was the year before that, so any growth at all in the middle of the global finance crisis is viewed as positive. All told, the toll on Norway’s tourism industry isn’t nearly as bad so far this summer as many in the business predicted earlier this year.

There’s little doubt that those spending their holidays in Norway are more careful with their money than in years past, and that includes both Norwegian and foreign tourists. High-priced hotels have been hurting, while budget accommodation is thriving. The Norwegian Mountain Trekking Association (DNT) also is reporting heavy demand at its self-service cabins in the mountains.

Packed flights to warmer climes

Many Norwegians, meanwhile, haven’t sacrificed their own summer holidays this year. Early bookings of charter flights to southern Europe got off to a rocky start, but now most tour operators are reporting fully booked flights to sunnier places than Norway, where rain has clouded the season during most of July. There’s been a decline in weekend trips, but Aftenposten reported recently that most families were taking at least a week off outside the country.

“We decided to allow ourselves that,” said Sissel Olsen as she, her husband and three sons waited for a flight to Venice at Oslo’s main airport.Others are downright splurging, with one group of young men spending three weeks on board a sailboat in the Mediterranean with a cook hired in. “It’s worth every krone ,” Martin Markusen from Follo, south of Oslo, told newspaper Dagsavisen . He said he and his friends had worked and saved up for two years for the lavish trip.

Economists point out that many Norwegians actually have seen an increase in their disposable income this year because of low interest rates and higher pay. Norwegians last year spent an estimated NOK 75 billion on holiday travel, up 50 percent since 2003.

“We may be cautious in some areas, but holidays are a priority,” Hilde Solheim of a trade association for the service industry HSH told Dagsavisen .