Cruise ships resist tax call

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Norway’s annual cruise season is winding down, and it seems the country as a cruise destination is more popular than ever. Norwegian hotels, however, have been losing business this past summer and they want a new cruise tax to fund promotion of land-based tourism. The cruise lines are keen to sink the proposal.

A half-dozen or so cruise ships are still expected to sail into Oslo before the season comes to a close at the end of this month. It’s been a busy year in Oslo and other ports around Norway, with as many as three large vessels cruising in and out every day.

Their main destination is, not surprisingly, the fjords of western Norway, and that’s where the conflict arises. While the cruise business has brought a record 400,000 visitors to Norway this year, hotels in the mountains and fjord country have seen a sharp decline in their business. Some hotel operators seem downright envious as they gaze across the water at huge, fully booked cruise ships while their beds stand empty.Hotel director Sigurd Kvikne told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) earlier this summer that the cruise lines “come here and use our product, Fjord Norway, more or less for free.” His hotel, Kvikne’s in Balestrand, has suffered a 15 percent decline in foreign guests and he wants more money for marketing.

Tourism officials in some other ports, including Oslo, have also noted that the cruise business doesn’t generate a lot of revenue for local businesses. The cruise passengers tend to eat on board, they do little shopping and often simply wander around if they don’t opt for an organized tour.

That’s prompted calls for the cruise lines to contribute a bit more to the local economy. Kvikne proposes a “fjord tax” of around NOK 500 (USD 90) per passenger, so the land-based tourism services in Norway can benefit from the hordes of cruise passengers who come.

No way, respond cruise line officials. They note that they already pay for berthing and port pilot fees, invest heavily in promoting Norway as a destination and also must pay emissions taxes.

Government officials don’t seem keen on imposing a cruise tax either. They argue that the state has increased funding for tourism promotion and should encourage more growth, also from cruise passengers, not penalize them.