Tourism faces new Chinese boycott

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Norwegian tourism officials have received reports from Chinese tour operators that they’ve been told by local authorities not to promote Norway as a tourism destination. The Chinese market had been growing, and a loss of Chinese tourists would be another setback for Norway’s tourism industry.

Norway's tourism industry has viewed visitors from China as a new growth market, with Chinese tourists often seen in Oslo's Frogner Park. PHOTO: Views and News

The industry was badly hit by a series of strikes just as the important summer season was getting underway. The strikes disrupted operations at Norwegian airports, disappointed museum visitors and cancelled calls by a long list of packed cruiseships, because there were no pilots to get the vessels into port. The cruiseships and their passengers thus had to sail elsewhere.

Norwegian hotels and other tourist-related businesses also face a sharp decline in the numbers of tourists coming from European countries hard-hit by the financial crisis and high unemployment. Not nearly as many Europeans can afford holidays as they did in earlier years.

‘Unfortunate’
Now Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has reported that the Norwegian market may see a decline in the roughly 30,000 Chinese tourists who arrived in Norway last year. That was up from 10,000 just a year earlier, and tourism officials had been keenly eyeing more growth in line with growing affluence within China. More Chinese are able to take overseas holiday than ever before, and everyone from hotel owners to sightseeing companies have viewed tourism from Asia as a new growth area.

Foreign ministry officials said they also had received reports that Chinese authorities were even forbidding the sale of package tours to Norway. They were unconfirmed, but staff at the ministry told NRK they’re concerned.

“We think it’s unfortunate if fewer Chinese tourists come to Norway, and we’re working to restore a good dialogue with China,” Svein-Atle Michelsen of the ministry told NRK.

‘Dramatic’
Hilde Charlotte Solheim of employers’ organization Virke works closely with the tourism industry and called the news “dramatic, not least because the Chinese are one of the groups that have growing.” She told NRK they are highly welcome guests, especially when many Europeans are less able to travel and take holidays. While Norwegians themselves are traveling more than ever, many head out of Norway for their own holidays, prompting more efforts to keep them vacationing at home.

The reported looming Chinese boycott is viewed as the latest example of how Chinese officials have been trying to punish Norway since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010. Diplomatic relations have been frozen ever since, with China demanding an apology that the Norwegian government is unable to offer, since it has no control over decisions made by the Nobel Committee. Just last week, Chinese authorities in Beijing failed to give their local embassy officials in Oslo permission to grant a visa to a former Norwegian prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik.

Embassy staff wouldn’t agree to an interview with NRK, but has said they were unaware of any new official advisories against travel to Norway.

While efforts have been underway for the past two years to repair relations with China, Norwegian officials also can file a complaint over any travel ban with the World Trade Organisation (WTO), of which both Norway and China are members.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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