Norway rolls up the welcome mat

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New studies show that a solid majority of Norwegians are fed up with mass tourism and want to impose more taxes on tourists, especially those arriving on cruiseships and arranging accommodation through Airbnb. Now even the national employers’ association NHO is calling for major cuts in cruiseship arrivals.

Critics of large cruiseships and other forms of mass tourism in Norway got some new ammunition this week, for their ongoing battle to limit it. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

The call comes after this week’s release of a new report conducted by research firm Stakeholder for NHO’s tourism division. It calculated the carbon emissions generated by foreign tourists in Norway and their consumption.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Wednesday that cruise passengers scored the worst, for generating the most emissions per person (an average of 659 kilos) and contributing the least to the Norwegian economy, an average of NOK 650 (USD 72) per day. Emissions rose to 1,452 kilos for those cruise passengers who also arrived at their cruiseships after long-haul flights.

“These are dramatic numbers that show how we must limit cruise traffic, out of consideration for both the emissions and the mass tourism that makes local residents so angry,” said Kristin Krohn Devold, a former defense minister for the Conservative party who’s been heading NHO’s tourism division for the past several years. “This just can’t continue. The ships that pollute the most must be weeded out and the number of total cruise arrivals limited.”

Hurtigruten joins the fight
That must be music to the ears of Daniel Skjeldam, chief executive of Norway’s own coastal voyage line Hurtigruten. In a meeting with foreign correspondents in Oslo and, more recently, in a commentary in newspaper Aftenposten, he declared that “mass tourism must be stopped. Now.” He excludes his own company’s vessels from the cruise criticism, claiming that Hurtigruten’s ships are smaller, have a long tradition of carrying both people and cargo along Norway’s long coast, and now have a modern fleet boasting low emissions, not least on its new hybrid ships. Hurtigruten has also raised prices, especially on its so-called “expedition” cruises in the Arctic and Antarctic, as it goes after the high end of the market.

Hurtigruten’s new hybrid ships are joining the fleet and commanding high rates as the company targets the high end of the cruise market. PHOTO: Hurtigruten

“The debate (over tourism) has raged for years,” Skjeldam wrote. “The cruise giants have had plenty of opportunity to sharpen their operations, to take responsibility (for emissions and pollution). They haven’t and they won’t.” He quoted the head of the cruise industry’s trade association CLIA as telling newspaper Aftenposten recently that “the cruiseships are more important for Geiranger than Geiranger is for the cruiseships.” He predicted that next summer, over a third of all the world’s cruiseships will be sailing along the Norwegian coast. “They wouldn’t be doing that if it wasn’t a money-machine for them,” he wrote, at the expense of local communities. A CLIA vice president responded by suggesting that Skjeldam was “greenwashing” his own cruise operation and “playing with the numbers” in reports. Others claim Norway should not only be a destination for the wealthy.

Tourists can irritate the locals
There’s no question, though, that the thousands of tourists pouring off large cruiseships have been irritating local residents of coastal cities like Stavanger, Bergen and even Oslo, while also all but overrunning small communities. Another new report commissioned by the state agency Innovation Norway, which has heavily promoted tourism over the years, shows that fully 69 percent of residents in heavily visited areas believe tourists trash their communities, while 62 percent said they damage the natural surroundings.

The areas viewed as being under special pressure from tourism, and where residents were surveyed, included Bergen, Stavanger, Ålesund, Geiranger, Lofoten, Aurland, Stryn and Longyearbyen in Svalbard. A solid majority of 65 percent responded that they want to impose special taxes on tourists to help pay for everything from garbage collection to public restrooms.

Bergen’s own tourism agency, Visit Bergen, is “in principle” opposed to tourist tax, noting that tourists already are subject to Norway’s high VAT, airline seat taxes and hotel tax. Any new “destination fee” should be targeted at cruise passengers and those using Airbnb for their accommodation, Visit Bergen boss Anders Nyland told Aftenposten.

‘Systematic madness’
Others are harsher in their assessment, like Bergen gallery owner Atle Maurseth who’s weary of all the busloads of tourists, especially those off cruiseships, who contribute to traffic congestion and then form long lines to ride the city’s funicular Fløibanen. “This is systematic madness,” he told Aftenposten. “We (the city) are becoming something we don’t want to be.”

Norwegian author Tomas Espedal, a Bergen native, also wants to reduce tourism in his home town. He was recently promoting Norwegian literature at the world’s largest book fair in Frankfurt, but openly hoped it wouldn’t lead to more tourism. “We need fewer tourists, not more,” Espedal complained to news bureau NTB. “There are already four cruiseships in Bergen every day from May to October, in a city surround by mountains. It’s really uncomfortable.”

Similar concerns could be heard last summer in Henningsvær in Lofoten, where tourism has soared to the point that local organizations have issued a “code of conduct” for visitors. The state government prevented local officials from imposing a tourist tax in the area but now even tourism promoters recognize the downside of their efforts to expand the visitor industry.

“It’s clear that if we want sustainable and wise growth in tourism, we need to go after the tourists who pay the most and stay the longest, also during the low seasons,” Bente Bratland Holm of Innovation Norway told DN. Christian Lunde, chief executive of VisitOslo, called the new reports “thought-provoking,” not least because of all the facts presented around carbon emissions. He noted that the cruise industry itself is “working actively” to cut its emissions.

“In the future I think we’ll be targeting our neighbouring countries in Europe,” Lunde said, “and working harder at getting the right visitors instead of just many.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund