There’s hardly any room at the inns this month, at least in Norway’s northern city of Tromsø. January used to be a very quiet month for Norwegian hotels, but an avalanche of winter tourists has left Tromsø with occupancy rates as high as 95 percent, and business is booming father south as well.
“It’s tremendous,” says Steinar Aase of Bergen-based Fjord Tours, which arranges popular trips using public transport around the majestic scenery of Western Norway. He told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that his company saw an astonishing 70 percent increase in its number of guests during the holiday period between Christmas and New Year’s Day known as romjul in Norway. It was a clear example of the boom in visitors from Asia, where many can take holidays from the end of December through February in connection with New Year celebrations.
2016 was a record year for Fjord Tours and 2017 was even better. “It looks like we’re going to see a further increase of around 15 percent,” Aase told DN. “It means we can pass NOK 200 million in gross revenues. It’s a milestone for us.”
It’s not only the international popularity of seeing the Northern Lights that’s drawing visitors to Norway from far and wide. The snow and winter landscapes that Norwegians “take for granted are viewed by steadily more tourists as very exotic,” Aase said. Visitors want to see “everything from snow-covered mountains and valleys to the Northern Lights. Just riding down a hillside on a sled is a fantastic experience for many. Or being able to ride on dogsleds at Geilo (a mountain resort in southern Norway).”
Northern Norway has been experiencing a booming winter tourism market for several years but this winter is surpassing all expectations. Poul-Henrik Remmer recalls when he worked 10 years ago at the Radisson Hotel in Tromsø, which was the only hotel that stayed open during the Christmas holidays. Now he runs the waterfront Scandic Ishavshotel just across the street from the expanded Radisson. The 214-room Ishavshotel didn’t have a single available room last week, and was 95 percent booked on New Year’s Eve.
“It’s been a fantastic development in Tromsø,” Remmer told DN. A quick check of rooms available next week also showed only suites still available, and occupancy was high at the Radisson and other hotels as well. The new supply and demand ratio has made room prices much higher as higher as well, up from around NOK 1200 per night for a double room two years ago to around NOK 2,00o (USD 250) now, and NOK 3,300 for so-called “junior suites” at both the Ishavshotel and the much newer high-rise Clarion Hotel The Edge a short walk away.
No declines in November
Hotels in cities like Bodø, farther south, are also able to charge relatively high rates. DN reported last month how none of the 11 Norwegian cities monitored for the monthly occupancy surveys conducted by Benchmarking Allicance in Norway showed a decline in their numbers of sold rooms in November. “I can’t ever remember that happening,” Peter Widerstrøm, a hotel specialist who analyzes the hotel data collected by Benchmarking Alliance, told DN. “It’s really seldom that we don’t see any decline in hotel demand in any of the country’s larger cities.”
Haugesund jumped the most, with a 47.2 percent increase in its number of sold rooms. Most of the activity was tied to a jump in local oil industry business tied to the development of the Johan Sverdrup offshore oil field.
The resurgence of oil industry activity was also behind a 24.1 percent increase in sold hotel rooms in the Stavanger area (including Sola, Sandnes and Jæren). Kristiansund was up 13.1 percent and Bergen 8.8 percent over November of 2016.
Year-round tourism poses challenges
There’s also been a visible increase in winter tourists in Oslo, judging by those seen wandering around the waterfront and visiting the city’s open-air markets before Christmas. Its number of hotel rooms sold was up 4.2 percent in November.
The jump in visitor numbers is prompting more restaurants, museums, shops and other tourist attractions to open or stay open longer during the winter months that used to be off-season. Now places like Tromsø are attracting as many if not more tourists during winter than they did in the summer. Hotels that once closed are now packed. Aase of Fjord Tours said it’s a challenge for some areas that were only geared for summer visitors.
“It’s clear that if Norway is to become a year-round destination, then the hotels, attractions and museums have to be open,” Aase told DN. “We have to show that there’s life here, and that it’s possible to get a good bed and a good meal. And that there are transport routes that allow tourists to get around. And we need to have this now, when we have a good exchange rate (because of the weak Norwegian krone) and can earn good money.”