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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Norway ‘overrun’ by motor homes

As Norway’s summer tourist season shifts into high gear, many locals want to run motor homes off the roads. Never before have so many of the large, bulky recreational vehicles rolled over the country’s narrow highways, blocked views, frightened cyclists and spent the night in conventional parking lots.

Norway’s scenic Lofoten archipelago has long been a magnet for motor homes, like here at the islands’ most westerly point. Traffic has increased greatly in recent years, though, especially during and since the pandemic. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

The situation is accelerating out of control in the Lofoten islands, where motor homes have come to dominate the landscape. The owner of Reine Adventure, a small firm offering guided cycllng tours for the past 20 years, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he’s shutting down because of fears over his clients’ safety amidst all the traffic.

“I don’t want to always be nervous about people getting run off the road,” Sandro Della-Mea told NRK. “I don’t feel like I can sell the tours as a good product any longer, when I see that my guests are scared.”

Traffic has increased greatly in Norway’s most popular areas, with cars and cyclists now competing against motor homes (called a bobil in Norwegian) and large trailer-trucks for space on narrow two-lane roads. Local politicians are also concerned, with Vågan Mayor Frank Johnsen confirming a huge increase in traffic especially this year, when the tourist business is breaking records. Hot weather and brush fires in Southern Europe, combined with Norway’s weak currency and Russia’s war on Ukraine, have prompted many Norwegians to spend their summer holidays in the homeland, and attracted hordes of foreign tourists too.

Motor homes allow tourists to visit more remote areas of Norway, but can quickly stir up complaints. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

“There’s a lot of traffic, and we have roads that aren’t dimensioned for it,” Johnsen of the rural-oriented Center Party told NRK. “My impression is that the pressure from tourists driving here is higher than it was earlier. We also see some idiotic driving.”

It’s the overwhelming presence of motor homes (many acquired during the pandemic as a means of traveling independently and without need to visit hotels or restaurants) that’s raising the most concern and sparking complaints. Christina Pletten, commentator in newspaper Aftenposten, compared the motor homes to snails traveling at slow speeds with their homes on their backs and leaving slime along the narrow roads over mountains and along fjords. “Then they sneak into towns and cities at dusk, hunting for a free place to park and spend the night,” Pletten wrote over the weekend.

“They’re in some ways better than all the hideous cruiseships, and offer tourists a way to visit some of the more remote areas of the country,” Pletten added “They can also be a source of welcome income in rural areas where some residents have set up parking- and campgrounds as a seasonal business. But they’re beginning to be really annoying.”

Recreational vehicles known as “bobiler” were already crowding this roadside rest spot with a view along the Helgelands Coast a few years ago. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

Irritation rises when motor home owners set up housekeeping at roadside rest spots, vista points and even parking lots at shopping centers. Pletten cited several online services and apps through which motor home owners tip off others to areas where they can park for free overnight.

A large parking lot popular with day hikers at Sognsvann in Oslo has turned into a campground of sorts this summer, with outdoor furniture, barbecues and even tents set up amidst cars. One French tourist admitted to spending two nights there, at no charge, but also predicted in an online forum that parking at Sognsvann will “probably be forbidden” for motor homes “because so many don’t respect the rules meant to limit the area to daytime parking.” City officials confirmed last week that they’re already working on a ban on overnight parking after complaints from local residents.

Motor-home tourists have also been spending the night this summer in the main parking lot for Oslo’s popular Frogner Park. They’ve often been seen eating breakfast outside their recreational vehicles, while others have even been spotted in parking lots adjacent to cemeteries. Rules for parking motor homes are reportedly more liberal in both Norway and Sweden than elsewhere in Europe. Motor home owners, meanwhile, complained in newspaper VG recently that campgrounds set up for them are too expensive, even though rates are a fraction of what a hotel room costs.

When “summer Norway is packed with motor homes,” Pletten argued, it’s important their owners follow laws and rules. Others argue that rules need to be tightened up.

Tour buses also continue to be a common sight in Norway, and several have gotten stuck on narrow roads this summer. The popular road known as Trollstigen, famed for its hairpin turns, has had to close on several occasions. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

Norway’s tourist industry, meanwhile, can expect “extreme growth” in the years ahead, according to studies by national employers organization NHO. Airport chaos, strikes and extreme weather elsewhere in Europe are making Scandinavia more and more attractive as a tourist destination both for locals and visitors from abroad. It’s viewed as cooler and safer than many other destinations, and then comes all the spectacular scenery and other attractions.

The biggest challenge, though, is that Norway isn’t prepared to accommodate all the tourists who want to visit. There aren’t enough Norwegians working or willing to work in the tourism industry, and many foreign workers left during the pandemic and haven’t returned. “The travel industry is struggling to find enough qualified workers,” Tone Grindland, regional director of NHO in Rogaland on Norway’s west coast, told newspaper Rogalands Avis. “We hear about the same challenges in Greece and Spain. Many left the industry during the pandemic and the industry hasn’t managed to recruit them back.”

There’s also a glaring lack of basic tourism infrastructure in Norway, not least regarding garbage collection and public toilets. That’s been a problem in Lofoten for years and it made a mess quite literally at the West Cape last week, when busloads of cruise tourists arrived for a short stop and only three toilets were available outside a small local restaurant. The restaurant’s owner, reports NRK, was overwhelmed and blamed the tour operator for bringing so many people at the same time.

Some Norwegian politicians are responding to tourism needs in a typical Norwegian manner, by proposing a tourist tax to help fund tourism infrastructure. A state commission recently proposed a national tourism tax on airlines, trains, ferries and cruiseships that would force visitors to contribute towards funding the services they need. Several cruise tourists interviewed by NRK recently didn’t object, noting how tourism taxes are common in other countries.

State officials influenced by national lobbyists opposed to more taxes have resisted a tourist tax, but the government minister in charge of business and trade, Jan Christian Vestre of the Labour Party, was receptive to setting up some pilot projects to collect “contributions from visitors,” not least at Lofoten. “That’s great, ” Line Renate Samuelsen, tourist chief on Lofoten, told newspaper Dagens Næaringsliv (DN). “We’re ready.”

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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