Eurovision circus underway in Oslo

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With just 10 days to go before the annual Eurovision Song Contest finals take center stage, the massive event is already well underway in Oslo. Performers and journalists from all over Europe have been arriving, and rehearsals have begun, but now Iceland’s volcano threatens to cloud the event and its organizer’s finances.

Alexander Rybak's big win at last year's Eurovision Song Contest meant Norway would be hosting the event this year. Thousands are in Oslo for the popular event, which will be broadcast live all over Europe. PHOTO; Eurovision

Norway was obligated to host this year’s Eurovision extravaganza after Norwegian musician Alexander Rybak won last year’s Eurovision by the biggest margin ever. That meant Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) needed to arrange the event, and the cost was so high that the state broadcaster had to drop plans to also cover the World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa next month. An Olympics, Eurovision and a World Cup in the same year were too much for NRK’s budget, despite Norway’s status as one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Wednesday that now NRK faces more budget worries tied to Eurovision. Iceland’s erupting volcano makes air travel in Europe unpredictable, and that’s caused several countries’ Eurovision delegations to cancel thousands of ticket reservations for the event itself. 

Estonia's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, Malcom Lincoln, was the first to arrive in Oslo over the weekend. The electronica duo started performing while still at the airport, and later was also among the first to give a press conference. PHOTO: Eurovision

“Some of the tickets that were sold have in fact not been sold, because there are people who either can’t or don’t want to travel to Oslo because of the uncertainty around the volcano’s ash clouds,” NRK chief Hans-Tore Bjerkaas told Aftenposten. He admitted that if NRK doesn’t manage to resell the tickets, it will hurt NRK’s already-stretched budget. Costs for security at the event have also come in at double what was expected.

A total of 39 countries are participating in this year’s Eurovision, bringing thousands of people to the Oslo area for the next two weeks heading into the semi-finals on May 25 and 27, and the finale on May 29. The live TV broadcasts from the events are expected to attract as many as 150 million viewers.

That’s raised lots of hopes among Norwegian officials, not least within the tourism industry, for promotional effects for Norway as host country. It clearly will be in the spotlight, but a professor at business college BI cautioned against any huge gains.

“It’s very important not to have expectations that are too high,” Professor Anne-Britt Gran at Handelshøyskolen BI told Aftenposten over the weekend. “I don’t think the Eurovision finals will change Norway’s image and lead to a big rush of tourism.”

Gran believes the effects will be temporary, for example the revenue rush to fully booked hotels in the Oslo area at present. Eurovision more than likely is a one-time event, she noted, unless Norway’s entry (singer Didrik Solli-Tangen) wins again this year. “Then we may get some repetition effects,” she said.

Tourism officials, meanwhile, are doing their best to promote Norway while foreign journalists are in town. They’re being given free public transport passes, several offers of excursions and special events, food and even prime viewing spaces at Monday’s 17th of May celebrations.

“The goal is to boost the reputation of Oslo as a city and Norway as a nation by telling them about our history and culture,” Oslo tourism chief Tor Sannerud told Aftenposten. “That can in turn stimulate other Europeans to travel here.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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