Chinese tourists help melt freeze

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A feared tourism boycott of Norway by Chinese tourists seems to have faded away. Their overnight stays were up by 50 percent in June alone, while the foreign ministry also has noted “positive signals” in relations between Norway and China, after nearly three years of a diplomatic freeze.

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

Norway’s tourism industry hopes that a feared boycott by Chinese tourists is fading away. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The increase in Chinese tourists in Norway, reported by the travel industry unit of employers’ organization NHO, has helped boost an otherwise lacklustre summer tourist season that’s been hit by economic problems in Europe.

“This is good news for Norwegian tourism,” Jostein Hansen, acting director of NHO Reiseliv, told newspaper Aftenposten. Never before has Norway received so many tourists from China than this year.

Norway had been seeing strong growth in tourism from China, where rising affluence and easier access to passports have resulted in many more Chinese traveling abroad. Last year, however, there was a marked downturn, after Chinese tour operators in some areas of the country stopped selling or promoting tours to Norway because of lingering anger over the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident in 2010.

Norwegian officials don’t think the Chinese boycott is officially over, “but it’s not being as enforced as last year,” Per-Arne Tuftin of Innovation Norway told Aftenposten. State statistics bureau SSB reported that Chinese visitors accounted for nearly 45,000 overnight stays in Norway during the first half of this year, more than double the amount in 2010. Tourism numbers from some other key other markets declined, especially from Germany and the Netherlands, reported SSB.

‘Positive signals’
Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, meanwhile, has said that Norwegian officials have been receiving some “positive signals” from China, as the diplomatic freeze between Beijing and Oslo starts to melt.

“We have a dialogue with China about putting earlier disagreements behind us, and that continues,” Eide told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) recently. “But we agree not to reveal the contents of the dialogue until we’ve reached our goal.”

Eide said he and his Norwegian government colleagues are encouraged by China’s new leadership, including acknowledgements of friction with its neighbours and “a new tone” towards the US. “I think China has realized that it faces so many challenges within the country that it’s an advantage to have good relations with those around China,” Eide told DN.

He also noted that China has “a capable ambassador here” in Norway, who is contributing to the “dialogue” between the countries, after nearly three years of virtually no contact at top government levels. Asked whether the tone between Norway and China has improved, Eide said, “yes, it at least hasn’t gotten any worse.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund