Norway is in the midst of another booming tourism season this year, with visitors from China fueling the most growth. New statistics on hotel stays show a 78 percent increase in Chinese tourists so far this year, and merchants are catering to their new customers from the Far East.
There was a time when Oslo went quiet during the summer, especially during the three traditional weeks of summer holidays known as fellesferie, which began this week. Many businesses and restaurants would close, for example, as Norwegians left town, and stores had shorter opening hours. It was easier to find street parking and the capital just seemed to ease into a quieter pace.
That’s not so any longer, as huge cruiseships disgorge thousands of tourists into the streets and buses do the same. Tourists now come to Norway year-round, also in the winter to experience the darkness and Northern Lights, but the summer influx is now bordering on extreme. Airline ticket purchases and hotel reservations have led travel and tourism organizations to expect yet another record year, with business up 28 percent over last year.
“It’s the Asian market that’s growing the most,” Bente Bratland Holm, travel director for Innovation Norge, told newspaper Aftenposten earlier this year. “Norway now has the most overnight stays by Chinese tourists in Scandinavia.”
Weaker krone, safety and scenery attract
Norway’s tourism boom has been fueled mostly by a weaker currency, the krone, which has made the country’s famously high prices somewhat less shocking for foreign visitors. The country is also viewed as safe, with spectacular scenery that continues to attract visitors. An increase in the size of the Chinese middle class with fewer travel restrictions on them has also made it possible for more and more Chinese to take holidays and travel abroad. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) has reported that there are now more Chinese tourists staying in Norwegian hotels than French, Dutch and Spanish tourists combined.
“We’re seeing strong growth in the Chinese market,” Line Endresen Normann of the business organization Virke told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). She also pointed to more and new direct airline routes from Asia to Norway, “and I would also like to stress that we are a fantastic travel destination, with spectacular and varied natural scenery, a strong cultural heritage, attractions and an active cultural life.”
The growth in Chinese tourists, and their penchant for buying luxury goods has prompted many retailers in Oslo and other Norwegian cities to cater to them with Chinese-speaking staff and Chinese signs in the windows. David-Andersen, Oslo’s venerable jewelry and silver retailer, is among retail establishments actively cultivating the Chinese market with Chinese-speaking staff and advertisements. So are Oslo’s Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Burberry shops, along with souvenir shops located around City Hall. Shops at Bryggen in Bergen are also offering special services to Chinese visitors.
“The affluent Asian tourist market presents enormous potential for Norway,” Ingjerd Sælid Gilhus of employers’ organization NHO Reiseliv told newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday. “They’re fascinated by our nature and culture.”
American tourists still spend the most money in Norway, though, at an average NOK 3,630 (USD 437) per day, according to Innovation Norge. That’s followed by French visitors at NOK 3,515 and Chinese at NOK 3,275. And the Chinese visitors prefer eating their meals at restaurants serving Chinese food. Large groups of Chinese are often seen outside restaurants Beijing House and Gold Mountain downtown or Oriental at Majorstuen.
“Chinese prefer to eat Chinese food, especially the older generation,” Jimmy Lu, who has run Beijing House for 10 years, told newspaper Aftenposten. He works with all the tourist operators in China that send visitors to Norway and can confirm that the influx of Chinese visitors has become big business. Some restaurants that never opened for lunch before now have brisk mid-day business from Chinese tour groups.
Retailers and hotels aren’t the only ones catering to the Chinese tourism boom. Norway’s coast voyage line Hurtigruten is also latching on to the trend, with two of their vessels now outfitted with Chinese signs, menus and crew to meet the demand.