Cruise ships and Disney's 'Frozen' have led to crowds of unprecedented size, about which Norwegians are not entirely happy.
Most countries would love to attract more tourists, but Norway rather wishes they’d stay away. The country slashed its promotional advertising budget for next summer after experiencing a flood of curious visitors that it felt unprepared to handle. Last fall, director of Fjord Norway, Kristian Jorgensen, told The Telegraph:
“This year is sort of off the charts… quite incredible. There are days when there are too many people at some of the smaller destinations like Geiranger and Flam. We have very few of them, but we are not trying to make more of them.”
A big part of the success can be attributed to Disney’s 2013 movie Frozen, the most successful animated film of all time, which was modeled on Norway. Since then, hordes of tourists, in particular from the United States, have come to see the real thing.
Another factor is the cruise ships that come into the famous UNESCO-protected fjords, flooding small villages such as Geiranger, pop. 215, with 700,000 cruise ship sightseers annually. Add to that the obsessive selfies hitting social media, and the attractions “are basically marketing themselves,” Jorgensen says.
Norway, however, does not want to accept growth at all costs because that would come at too high a cost to nature. In an unusual and refreshing approach, it has turned its focus toward sustainable, slow tourism, in hopes that visitors will embrace the Norwegian way of life for longer periods of time, in less damaging ways.
The Slow TV series, hosted on national TV and available on YouTube, is one example of this, where viewers can watch traditional Norwegian activities such as salmon fishing and knitting, minute by minute. There are videos that depict travelling the famous Bergen train line for seven hours non-stop and flying over glaciers and fjords. They’re not exactly action sequences, and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation has jokingly said it hopes people realize it’s not a screensaver.
Another indication of Norway’s shift toward slow travel is the growth of small, sustainable inns and guesthouses in rural locations, whose prices are competitive with bigger hotels in town. One that’s received media coverage and rave reviews from visitors is 29/2 Aurland, a beautiful family-run farm hotel located deep within the Sognefjord. It offers rustic cabins, an outdoor hot tub, and food sourced from the organic garden and the goats.
Tone Ronning, who has worked hard to build 29/2 Aurland with her husband Bjorn, makes it clear that tourism in Norway should protect, not undermine, the beauty that draws visitors in the first place.
“We want to be a sustainable alternative to cruise tourism. It’s a contradiction. Once you become a World Heritage site, you get more crowds, and it becomes a lost paradise. We don’t want that to happen here.
“We really want guests to slow down here, understand the culture and history of the valley, meet the craftspeople who keep alive generations of traditions, and enjoy the fjords the way they used to be enjoyed -- without polluting cruise ships.”