Hundreds of thousands of Norwegians just back from Easter skiing holidays are already on track for more vacations, despite their weak currency and ongoing economic concerns. Some tour operators are reporting record sales, fueled by pent-up travel demand and the importance many place on summer holidays.
The brisk bookings, also for expensive trips, come despite months of complaints in Norway over higher taxes, rising interest rates, shocking fuel and energy bills and steep price hikes at the grocery store.
“We don’t see any signs that concern over interest rates, the weak krone or economic uncertainty is limiting travel demand,” Hans Christian Birkeland, leader of an online travel firm, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “Summer holidays abroad are almost sacred for many Norwegians, who may cut back on spending here and there but won’t give up on travel.” Birkeland expects 2023 to be “an even better year for us” than 2022, when pandemic-related travel restrictions finally eased.
Local media have been packed with ads, meanwhile, for organized tours and holiday packages abroad, and they’ve clearly been read. Escape Travel, Norway’s largest operator of tailor-made itineraries using scheduled airline service instead of chartered aircraft, is among those enjoying a boom in business.
Saved money during the pandemic
“I’ve seen a lot in this branch since the 1980s, but never anything close to this,” Gunnar Grosvold, manager of Escape Travel, told DN. “Even with the weak krone (which makes foreign travel more expensive because of unfavourable exchange rates) we’ve never sold better than we have now.” More than 76 percent of this year’s tours on offer were already sold by the end of March.
He doesn’t see any signs of Norwegians hesitating to sign up for expensive trips either. Some speculate that Norwegians are tapping into savings built up during the Corona crisis, when most all travel ground to a halt. “We also see that people are buying less sporting equipment and clothes, and maybe go out to eat less frequently than before,” Grosvold said, adding that most customers aren’t buying their trips on credit. “Many clearly haven’t spent all the money they saved during the pandemic.”
Charter firm Ving also reports strong sales. Marie-Anne Zachrisson, who leads Ving in Norway, said she’s surprised, too, and hears the same from others in the business. “The volumes for summer still won’t match those in the years before the pandemic,” she told DN, “but that’s also because capacity isn’t completely back to where it was, either.” Ving has nonetheless already sold more than 50 percent of its available seats for summer holidays, which is more than normal.
“We don’t see any signs that Norwegians are choosing more reasonable accommodation or packages either,” Zachrisson said. “The best and most popular hotels and apartments sell out first.” She added that bookings for travel in May are also “record strong” this year.
Weaker krone makes Norway more attractive
Some Norwegians are traveling to destinations known for being cheaper than the most popular in Spain and Greece, however. Bookings for holidays in Turkey have doubled, and are up by 50 percent in Bulgaria. Poland has also emerged as an attractive holiday destination.
Some tour operators are even specializing in cheaper destinations, given a krone that’s now historically weak against both the dollar and the euro. That leaves non-euro countries like Turkey with a more favourable exchange rate, despite soaring inflation. With the price of hotels and dinner in Italy, Spain or France now much higher than last year, some travelers are also setting course for Albania, Bulgaria, Kosovo and Serbia.
Norway’s weak krone, now trading at around NOK 10.5 to the US dollar, is also making Norway a somewhat less-expensive destination for travelers from abroad. Norway’s tourist industry expects a strong summer, since the dollar, the euro and the Swedish and Danish kroner are worth much more in Norway. “It’s a dream situation,” Per-Arne Tuftin of the national tourism organization Norsk Reiseliv told DN, even though hotel rates have jumped by as much as 30 percent in Norway’s largest cities from pre-pandemic levels. Sales are also reportedly booming at companies like Fjord Tours Group, and the coastal voyage line Hurtigruten.