After a summer with a rash of fatal accidents involving tourists, Norwegian officials are sounding some alarms. They worry that many who are unaccustomed with the forces of nature, or who simply act irresponsibly, all too often risk their own lives, sometimes just to take a photo.
Many tourists just don’t understand the risks around some scenic, but potentially dangerous, natural attractions, travel industry and local authorities say.
A German couple was among the recent victims when they wandered past warning signs and walked onto a glacier, only to be hit and killed by a block of ice with their children as witnesses. In mid-July, a Russian woman ventured onto a steep ledge over Vøringsfossen waterfall and fell to her death. By the end of the summer tourism season, 11 tourists had lost their lives in various accidents around Norway and officials have long claimed that tourists are overrepresented in accident statistics.
Taking risks in Ålesund
Just a few weeks ago, many tourists were defying barriers set up around a steep stairway and trail leading up to the Fjellstua observation point over the city of Ålesund on Norway’s west coast. The stairs recently were closed for repairs and lack railings in many places, but determined tourists ignored the risks and started climbing them anyway.
“It’s possible to fall 30 or 40 meters if they’re unlucky,” Steven Bendal, leader of the stairway rehabilitation project told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “The alternative route is well-signed, in both Norwegian and English.” Bendal and other city officials claim it’s been dangerous for anyone other than the construction workers to use the stairs.
Audun Pettersen, head of the tourism division at Innovation Norway, the state business promotion agency, thinks the tourists simply lack enough information about the places they’re visiting. “They often don’t understand the risks,” Pettersen told newspaper Aftenposten recently.
Downside of ‘active’ holidays
Pettersen noted that many tourists also have become much more active while on holiday. Instead of just passively gazing at Norway’s scenery, they want to hike, raft, climb or otherwise “actively take part in experiences,” Pettersen said.
The travel industry has also encouraged that, through campaigns for “active holidays” that may end up more active than the tourists bargained for. In addition to the fatal accidents this past summer, several tourists have had to be rescued from mountainsides they’d climbed, from hikes that became too long, from boats they couldn’t handle or from bad weather that set in either on the water or on land. Many simply got lost.
The travel industry and the mountain trekking association DNT have written a safety brochure in several languages with advice and warnings about hiking in the mountains, for example, and officials wish more tourists would actually visit the visitor information centers found in most Norwegian towns and cities.
“We generally reach the tourists who take part in organized activities,” Pettersen said. “We also work with tour operators abroad who sell Norway as a tourist destination, to spread information that Norwegian nature can involve risks.”