Increasingly fierce opposition to the numbers of large cruiseships docking in Norway in recent years is finally being heard. Officials in Bergen, Norway’s busiest cruise destination, are now asking the state for permission to limit the number of cruiseships to three per day, in an effort to control the hordes of tourists who’ve been inundating the city.
Politicians are responding to local concerns that the huge crowds of visitors pouring off all the cruiseships can ultimately damage Bergen’s reputation as a tourist destination. The largest cruiseships can accommodate thousands of passengers and crew members, and they in turn can overwhelm Bergen’s historic wharf, its popular funicular and other landmarks.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Wednesday that city officials were set to propose limits of either three ships per day or a total of 8,000 cruise passengers. “We reckon there will be a broad majority of support for this,” Geir Steinar Dale of the Labour Party, who leads the city council’s committee in charge of environmental and development issues, told NRK.
Bergen is far from alone in suffering from the influx of cruiseships. Residents of Stavanger have seen their small historic neighbourhoods literally overshadowed by cruiseships that are taller than most local buildings and crowd the harbour day after day.
“It feels like we’re being slowly suffocated,” one resident of Gamle Stavanger, the city’s historic neighbourhood of small old wooden houses, told newspaper Aftenposten’s A-magasinet last summer. Åsbjørg Self and her husband John now find themselves sitting in their garden with huge 12-deck or higher cruiseships towering over them. The ships block their view to the waterfront and generate noise and pollution during the summer months. Then come all the people off of them, many of whom think the Selfs’ residential neighbourhood is a museum open to the public. “We have to close our doors and gates to the garden,” Self said. “There’s constant foot traffic, we’ve lost all our privacy.”
Cruise passengers don’t contribute much to the local economy either, apart from buying souvenirs. Since their cruise packages cover most meals, few spend time in local restaurants, and the cruiseships pose major competition for local hotels.
That’s been the biggest complaint among owners of hotels along the fjords of Western Norway. Many have looked out at large cruiseships packed with the overnight passengers who they wish were filling their rooms and restaurants instead. Norwegian hotels can’t possibly compete price-wise, however, with all-inclusive cruise fares based on much lower cost levels than those found in Norway.
The cruiseships have also sparked serious complaints over their carbon emissions and risk of spills. The narrow fjord of Geiranger has often been clouded by air pollution on days with no wind and several cruiseships anchored offshore. Aftenposten reported last spring that a majority in Parliament has demanded that both tourist boats and cruiseships sail on either electricity or hydrogen in the fjords, at the latest by 2026. The government is now charged with drawing up such rules.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) recently reported, meanwhile, that cruise industry growth is predicted to double the numbers of cruise tourists in Norway, from 800,000 this year to 1.6 million by 2060. Norway’s transport economic institute TØI expects cruise passenger growth of at around 2.5 per cent per year from 2018 until 2028, followed by 1.5 percent growth through to 2060. TØI’s growth estimates are in turn based on OECD statistics regarding economic development, estimates for growth in the tourist industry overall and the cruise industry’s own estimates.
“The main reason for the strong growth in cruise tourism is that cruises have gone from being something luxuious to being ‘the new sydentur,'” Petter Dybedal, a researcher at TØI, told DN. He was referring to the relatively inexpensive package tours to southern Europe that became popular and accessible beginning in the 1960s. “It’s no longer expensive to go on a cruise, at least not on the biggest ships, and that’s broadened the market.”
Even before Bergen announced its proposed limits on cruiseships, Dybedal predicted that Stavanger and Norway’s scenic coastal city of Ålesund will see the most growth, while officials in Geiranger and the fjord area around Flåm are under pressure to limit ships as well because of environmental concerns.
Oslo’s cruise growth has “stagnated” since around 2011, because of relatively high berthing costs and the distance involved in cruising up and down the Oslofjord. Norwegian ports on the West Coast are simply easier and cheaper for cruiselines to reach when coming from the UK or northern Europe.
There’s also been lots of criticism in Oslo over the large ships that dominate the harbour, block views and also overshadow the city’s historic Akershus Fortress. Many of the ships tower over the Oslo landmark when berthed alongside it, and obliterate views from when they arrive in the morning to when they sail in the late afternoon. They also close off the waterfront area where they’re berthed because of security requirements.
The Greens Party, which shares city government power with Labour in Oslo, has called for a ban on cruiseships in Oslo entirely: “Cruise traffic takes up too much room along the waterfront and isn’t very important for Oslo businesses,” Einar Wilhelmsen, leader of the Greens in Oslo, told NRK earlier this fall. “It’s not profitable for Oslo and Oslo needs to cut its carbon emissions by 95 percent by 2030.” The cruiseships add to the city’s emissions, he noted.
Wilhelmsen was met with immediate objections from Oslo’s harbour director, who thinks cruise traffic “enriches” the city’s waterfront activity. “Oslo is a port city and we should look at that as an asset,” said harbour director Ingvar Mathisen. Cruise traffic in Oslo is expected to resume growth next year.
The challenge of handling all the tourists disembarking in concentrated periods of time remains the biggest problem, especially along the West Coast and in the fjords. Last summer’s cruise traffic generated stories in Norwegian media about inadequate toilet facilities ashore, tour bus chaos in Ålesund and how hordes of tourists overran an historic chuch, right in the middle of a funeral. Tourists and one of their guides off a cruiseship in Svalbard also spooked a polar bear, compelling the guide to shoot it in a case that left everyone upset.
Back in Bergen, Dale of the City Council admits that the city has no power to limit cruise traffic itself and needs state approval. Local tourism-oriented businesses were already objecting on Tuesday as well. Arild Øvre-Eide, who owns a farm just five kilometers north of downtown Bergen, has specialized in picking up cruise tourists and taking them to his farm at Jordal and doesn’t want to see their numbers decline. Dale had little sympathy: “The Øvre-Eide Farm doesn’t exactly have capacity to take in 8,000 guests a day, so they will still have enough visitors even if we put the brakes on cruise traffic.” One of Dale’s colleagues from the Socialist Left party (SV), meanwhile, thinks a limit of 8,000 cruise tourists day is still too high for Bergen. Diane Berbain of SV doesn’t want any more than 5,000, and two cruiseships a day.