Reflections on Mass Cruise Tourism in Norway

9 October 2013

By ATTA President, Shannon Stowell

Photo courtesy of Fjord Norway

I recently attended a tourism conference on the region Fjord Norway (9/15-9/17), in beautiful Balestrand- about a hour hour drive into the fjord country from Bergen. The topics covered included the management of tourism clusters, cruise tourism and adventure tourism, and about 250 industry professionals attended the two-day event, generating a lot of interesting discussion.

Norway is blessed with the highest standard of living on the planet; however, this also means it is incredibly expensive and makes business difficult for tourism professionals - especially those who run small businesses. The discussions often came back to what tourism means for Norway and what the future could or should look like.

Photo courtesy of Fjord Norway

One of the subjects debated was regarding cruise tourism for the region. There are strong opinions for and against and many attendees are struggling with the complicated relationship with mass cruise lines and itineraries in the country.

The reality is that cruising brings a lot of people to Norway that might otherwise not come. It also involves revenue streams that impact certain businesses in the Norwegian economy - from day trip providers to food vendors and such. The other reality is that there is questioning of the NET value of the cruises and their visitors in Norway due to limited spend and environmental impact. Harder to measure still is the impact of 'people pollution' or visual pollution - impacts that might scare higher paying customers away from parts of Norway, or from the destination entirely.

Both sides presented data - compelling in both directions - for and against the value of cruise. What is clear is that the value for Norway is mixed and the concern is the rapidly increasing volume of cruise that threatens to upset the current equilibrium in many locations.

Photo courtesy of Fjord Norway

Cruise is high volume, low revenue (in general) and the industry has a mixed report card in regards to environmental impact:

In the next 25-50 years, unless things change dramatically, many destinations will experience carrying capacity overload, destruction of special touristic locations and degradation of environment. Therefore it follows that destinations must act NOW to preserve what they have.

I think of three types of capital (certainly there are more) in regards to tourism - financial, natural and human (cultural especially). Natural capital, the environment and wildlife, is fragile and once you lose certain things (species), they are gone forever. And even in the best cases it's difficult to recover from environmental loss of any measure. But the cultural capital, what makes Norway NORWAY, is in danger as well when cruise ships overload the country. And that 'capital', once lost - is lost forever.

My encouragement to Norway is to think 50 years ahead when making decisions now. Protect your heritage, your environment, your local economies. You'll never regret it in the future.