Hotels slump, cruising soars

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While Norwegian hotels are having a disappointing summer season this year, the number of cruise passengers passing through Norway has skyrocketed. It’s debatable, though, how much impact cruise passengers have on the local economy.

Cruise ships like this one are making regular calls along Norway's coast. PHOTO: Views and News

A new study widely reported in local media last week shows that Norwegian hotels, cabins and campgrounds don’t have any more overnight guests now than they did at the end of the 1990s. That’s causing severe economic worries for many local hotels, especially those that are family-run and not affiliated with large chains.

“Many of these hotels face an uncertain future,” Terje Devold of travel firm 62 Nord in Ålesund told newspaper Aftenposten. His firm owns several historic hotels and has been approached by the owners of others trying to sell, because they can’t make ends meet with regular operations during a short summer season.

Devold predicts many of the hotels in small towns and tourist areas will disappear. “In a few years, maybe they’ll be used as nursing homes,” Devold said.

Sailing into many of the same tourist areas along Norway’s fjords are the huge cruise ships built during a shipbuilding boom in recent years and keen to fill up their cabins. They’ve been expanding their routes to places like Norway and offering attractive fares, meaning it can be much cheaper to take a cruise holiday around Norway than to travel through the country by land.

The presence of the large cruiseships already has caused some friction between hotel and other land-based tour operators in Norway and the cruiselines. Calls have been made to impose new taxes on the cruiseships, and now state officials are launching a new study to try to determine the economic impact of cruise passengers at 34 ports around Norway. Results are expected by Christmas.

Tourists started lining up at some attractions in Oslo as early as April, but hotels are caught in a slump. PHOTO: Views and News

New markets offer relief
Meanwhile, Norway’s tourism industry is getting some relief from new markets like China. The number of tourists from China increased 13 percent last year and the growth is expected to continue.

On one recent Hurtigruten ship sailing to Svalbard, 100 of the vessel’s 192 passengers were Chinese, reported Aftenposten. “Large numbers of Chinese have suddenly become able to travel abroad just during the past few years,” said tour operator Lie Jerry Liu.

He thinks the Arctic and Antarctic will be especially attractive for Chinese seeking exotic experiences, and northern Norway can benefit. Officials at state tourism agency Visit Norway want to ease visa requirements and see the launch of non-stop flights between Oslo and Beijing.

Despite the lure of the Far North, Oslo’s Frogner Park remains the top tourist destination in Norway, attracting at least 90 percent of the roughly 1 million foreign visitors in the country every year. 

Germans make up the largest group of foreign tourists in Norway, according to state statistics bureau SSB, followed by Swedes Danes, British, Dutch, American and French. Around 430,000 arrive on cruise ships and 70 percent come between May and September.

Many still experience price shock on arrival, and some travel industry officials worry Norway may price itself out of the market. A ride on the public transit system costs four times as much as in Madrid, for example, while dining out or having a drink can put a severe strain on many travel budgets.

“Lovely country but damn pricey,” wrote one British blogger recently, which, as newspaper Dagsavisen noted, “isn’t exactly a great trademark during a year of economic turmoil.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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