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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Svalbard sells its winter nights

For years, Norway has marketed itself as the “Land of the Midnight Sun.” Now the velvet silence of the polar night in winter will become a new attraction, if tourism promoters on Svalbard get their way.

Svalbard's tourism promoters want visitors to return in the winter. PHOTO: Svalbard Reiseliv/Erlend Helmersen

Svalbard’s tourism industry wants to fill hotel rooms on the Arctic archipelago during the winter as well as the summer. The industry launched a campaign this year in the hopes of luring even just 10 per cent of its summer guests back during the winter, reports newspaper Aftenposten.

Some 50,000 visitors are being sent alluring descriptions of an allegedly romantic, silent and pastel-coloured dark period. At Longyearbyen airport and at the cruise terminal, visitors are being encouraged to come back in the winter.

Around 60,000 people visit Svalbard during the summer. Two-thirds arrive on cruise ships, the remainder fly in, except for the few that arrive in their own boats. The archipelago’s main town of Longyearbyen has five hotels plus pubs and cafés boasting a remarkable selection of wine and brandy.

The town has some 2,000 residents, most of whom make their living through mining or tourism. Longyearbyen also has a university centre that does research and teaches courses with relevance to the Arctic environment.

Tourism promoters in Finnmark in northern Norway have been actively luring visitors for several years, as has the coastal shipping line Hurtigruten. They’ve had some success, with visitors from as far away as Japan taking a Norwegian holiday in the middle of winter in the hopes of seeing the Northern Lights or sleeping in an ice hotel.

On Svalbard, the sun is so far below the horizon in midwinter that the noon twilight experienced in the Arctic areas of mainland Norway is totally absent. Twelve-noon is as dark as midnight, but many locals think that offers its own exotic charm.

“The people living up here have caught the polar bug,” says Unni Myklevoll in charge of travel promotion at Svalbard Tourism plc. “We want others to catch it too.”

Her job now is to fill hotels in winter as well as in summer and bring customers to Svalbard’s shops, galleries and restaurants, as well as to its dogsled mushers, snowmobile safaris and organizers of walks under the northern lights, writes Aftenposten.

At latitude 72 degrees North, Longyearbyen is considered to be the world’s most northern, accessible tourist destination. The summer season is hectic, but calm falls over the settlement as winter sets in. Many of the residents look forward to the more relaxed atmosphere as the days grow shorter.

“A walk down the well-lit high street in winter is an adventure in itself,” claims Myklevoll. “There’s plenty of worthwhile things happening, and there’s lots of room.”

Views and News from Norway/Sven Goll
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