More foreign tourists than ever before are visiting Norway this year, and with many Norwegians staying in the country as well this summer, the tourism industry is booming. Norway’s mountains and fjords are still the strongest magnets, but Norwegian cities are also drawing unusually large crowds of sightseers.
Downtown Oslo, for example, has been packed with visitors this month. July is the major summer holiday month for Norwegians and cities like Oslo used to be quiet, with so many residents heading out of town and foreign tourists mostly only passing through. No longer. Now the streets are full of visitors both from abroad and within Norway, with many Norwegian families heading to their capital themselves.
Bergen is always busy in the summer and in Stavanger, where the economy has been hit hard by the dive in oil prices and unemployment has risen, local officials are calling tourism “The New Oil.” The West Coast city with mountains rising in the background saw its visitor numbers climb 13.4 percent last year and expect this year’s number to far exceed that. Stavanger is also attracting record numbers of cruiseships, with 162 vessel calls this year compared to 144 last year, reported Rogalands Avis (RA) recently.
“We’ve been saying that tourism is the new oil in our region,” Elisabeth Saupstad, director of travel-related issues for local development agency Region Stavanger that’s among those working to promote tourism. While local hotels have suffered from the downturn in the oil business, they’re now extending their tourism season and filling rooms with leisure travelers instead.
Saupstad said that, as with tourism trends nationwide, the largest groups of visitors are from other European countries, but there’s also been a jump in visitors from the US and Asia. Economists point to the weaker Norwegian krone, which has helped make traditionally high Norwegian prices less shocking, while Norway is also generally viewed as a safe destination. Airfares are also relatively low, compared to a decade or more ago.
There’s no question that hotels and restaurants in Norway have also improved dramatically from the days when many were actually closed in Norwegian cities, and menus were uninspiring. Oslo and not least Stavanger are now known for a vast array of restaurants with Michelin stars among them.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Monday that many places in Norway are reporting an “all-time high” in visitors numbers, with tourists from Sweden, Germany, the US and Denmark leading the pack. New numbers from state statistics bureau showed overnight stays on a nationwide basis were up 8 percent from January 1 through June 30.
“Reports we’re getting from large portions of the country suggest a record summer for the third year in a row,” Merete Habberstad, head of toursim for national employers’ organization NHO Reiseliv, told Aftenposten. “It’s very encouraging and suggests that tourism is an industry Norway should work hard on in the future.”
There’s also been a boom in visitors from Asia, not least China, where an emerging middle class also has easier access to obtaining passports for travel abroad. SSB reported that the number of overnight guests from China has more than tripled since 2007. Canada, Australia and Argentina are also figuring more highly in visitors statistics.
A survey conducted by state development agency Innovation Norway showed that Norway’s nature and scenery scored as the biggest attraction, followed by the fjords, local food and drinks, national parks, art exhibits and museums, local history and legends, traditions and national festivals. Habberstad claimed that local tourist-related firms have been good at developing new experiences for visitors, from bicycling down mountainsides and through cities, to mounting music festivals and cultural exhibits that draw visitors from abroad as well.
Northern Norway has also been discovered by foreign visitors, where just as many are now coming with the same hopes of seeing the Northern Lights in the winter as the Midnight Sun in the summer, along with some spectacular scenery without crowds. Norway’s inland counties of Hedmark and Oppland are also reporting record numbers of visitors, in both the valleys and the mountains. Several hotels, like Wadahl in Gålå, have never had so many guests in the summertime, with occupancy rates up 25 percent so far this summer.
Norwegians themselves are making up a solid portion of the numbers, and staying in hotels themselves. Many have cut their summer holiday budgets and are staying home this year instead of traveling abroad. That’s helped make Oslo a top destination for families like the Haugseths from Trøndelag. “We’ve been in Oslo often, but never as ordinary tourists,” Marianne Haugseth, age 33, told Aftenposten, as she and her husband strolled with their two small daughters around the roof of the Opera House. “It’s great!”
They said they’d spent last summer’s holiday on Mallorca and saw that it would be much more expensive this year because of Norway’s weak krone. The family thus headed for Oslo, where they’ve ridden around on the tram, visited attractions like the Opera and several museums and “seen where the king lives.” Many Norwegians have also traveled to Oslo to see major concerts like Adele, while Bruce Springsteen will soon perform his latest concert in Oslo on Thursday, outdoors in the Frogner Park. Springsteen performed at Ullevål Stadium in Oslo just a few weeks ago, but still managed to sell out 37,000 tickets to his concert in the park in the space of 30 minutes.