Norway’s northern city of Kirkenes has lost some expected cruiseship visits this summer because it’s located so close to the Russian border. The rest of the country, however, is bracing for record-high cruise traffic since vessels can’t or won’t be cruising in the Baltic and docking at St Petersburg.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has not only deeply disturbed his country’s other neighbours but made Russia an extremely unattractive tourist destination. Economic sanctions against Russia have also blocked visitors and trade.
“There’s been some anxiety in the cruise market,” Dag Norum of Visit Kirkenes told newspaper Klassekampen. Norway’s border to Russia has earlier been somewhat of a tourist attraction, but not now, with Norum adding that “getting so close to the Russian border is viewed as difficult.”
Some ships that had intended to cruise the Northern Norwegian coast had also planned to sail on to Murmansk, but that had to be cancelled. “It’s especially the American tour operators that have told us that fear of Russia has prompted them to cancel or choose other destinations,” Henriette Bismo Eilertsen of the trade association Cruisenettverk Nord-Norge told Klassekampen. “They think Finnmark (the scenic Arctic region where Kirkenes is locate) is too close to Russia.”
It’s another disappointment to local businesses that were ready to offer various land-based activities to the cruise tourists, while harbor officials in Kirkenes will miss the docking fees ships must pay. Norway’s own coastal shipping lines still regularly call at Kirkenes, but Putin’s war has chilled cruise prospects just as the city was hoping to revive tourism after the Corona crisis.
Other popular cruise ports in Norway, meanwhile, are likely to set new cruise records this summer, for better or worse. Cruise tourism is highly controversial in Norway because of all the thousands of tourists that pour off the ships and converge on relatively small towns and cities all at once. Yet another new study also shows that cruise tourists spend the least of all tourists in Norway, since they get fed on board and many tours and activities are also organized through the cruise line.
“I haven’t seen any cruise passengers coming in the door,” Marius Lunde Petersen, who runs restaurants in Ålesund, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) this week. Several large cruiseships were tied up in his West Coast city last week but their passengers seemed to confirm the results of research by Professor Svein Larsen at the University of Bergen: “Cruise tourists leave the least amount of money behind them. If there’s an entry fee to a museum, they won’t go in. They don’t go to cafés, bars, concerts or restaurants.” Nor, of course, do they stay at hotels unless they’re boarding or disembarking in Norway. That’s seldom, since most of the big cruiseships originate in the UK or other European ports.
Many will be arriving this summer, diverted from the Baltic and especially Russian ports. Cruising in the Black Sea is also impossible, so the cruiselines have set their sights on Scandinavia and other “safer” areas of Europe. In 2019, when cruising set records in Norway, 3.7 million cruise passengers docked during 2,881 port calls. State authorities have reported that 4 million passengers are expected this year, spread over 3,422 cruise dockings.
Tourism bosses tend to claim that they welcome all visitors, not wanting to offend the cruise lines. Some areas have nonetheless started limiting cruiseship dockings both to reduce crowding and carbon emissions. After two years of Corona restrictions, though, even Oslo (where politicians have been most critical to the cruise trade) is set to welcome 40 more cruise dockings than the city had in the record year of 2019.
Nationwide the increase is pegged at more than 500 cruise calls than during the last year before Corona cancelled most all of them. Bergen, Ålesund and Stavanger will get the most, including the huge Royal Caribbean ship Anthem of the Seas, which sailed into Bergen for the first time last week. It’s nearly 350 meters long, has more than 2,000 cabins and resembles several mid-rise hotels placed on a vessel’s hull.
“We’re used to getting big ships here in Bergen,” an official at Bergen’s harbour authority told NRK, “but this one is the biggest we’ve had.”