Cruise Northern Norway & Svalbard

5 Feb Cruise from fjords towards the north

Open letter signed by 15 mayors in Northern Norway:

The limitations being placed on cruise calls to the fjords of Western Norway can provide a new and huge opportunity for Northern Norway. Northern Norwegian hospitality can lead our region back to old heights, when the Midnight Sun and North Cape were the most important selling points. However, to fully succeed, this must be sustainable in the broadest sense of the word.

Throughout 2018, there has been major focus on the cruise industry in the public discussion, particularly in relation to sustainability measured in terms of environmental footprints, overtourism and value creation. Some of the criticism has been justified, while a lot of it is based on expressing strong but weakly founded opinions and carelessness with the facts.

The main argument against the cruise traffic has been that “cruise passengers don’t leave money behind onshore”. This is wrong. No one offers charity to the cruise lines; cruise tourism is good from a social economics perspective as well as a business economics perspective – also onshore.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries commissions Innovation Norway to conducts an annual tourism survey. The figures for 2017 show that cruise lines and passengers leave behind a total of NOK 2.6 billion. If you divide this by 3 million (the number of day visits), it equates to NOK 860 per landing passenger. This is a significant export income for Norway, which creates jobs and generates tax revenues for small and large communities along the coast. Even small destinations can handle the cruise ships, which bring their own hotels with them.

Svolvær harbour

Virtually all forms of tourism involving transportation result in greenhouse gas emission. That is also the case for the cruise industry. Although air traffic accounts for most of the pollution, the cruise industry has been left to face the criticism because the emissions are very visible when they accumulate in narrow fjords. Photos of fjords covered with smoke on a warm and calm summer’s day are a recurring theme in the media, and obviously this does not look good.

Like all other transport industries, the cruise industry must also adapt to international and national requirements related to fuel and limitations on emissions. This is a driving force for the cruise lines installing exhaust gas cleaning systems, the largest ports investing in shore power and shipbuilders testing new engine technologies and alternative energy sources on board, such as LNG. Furthermore, it’s not improbable that in a decade ships powered by hydrogen will be built, meaning the only discharge will be water. The cruise lines have the capital and the willingness to do this and perceive that the authorities and the passengers are pushing for a lighter environmental footprint than is the case today.

In the fjords of Western Norway, the restrictions on the cruise industry have become extensive and in part unrealistic. Consequently, the cruise lines are looking for alternative sailing routes. This change represents the perfect pass to Northern Norway, which now has a golden opportunity to make itself attractive and thereby increase revenues from a large and growing cruise market.

All increases within the cruise industry in recent years have occurred within seven-day sailings. If one wishes to offer week-long Midnight Sun cruises in Northern Norway, this must be done as a flight and cruise package. Turnaround operations are common in other parts of the world and will increase in Northern Norway in the future. In our region, we have airports and ports in Lakselv, Tromsø, Harstad/Narvik and Bodø that have the capacity to perform such operations. Other examples of destinations that have good quay facilities to expand the cruise season are North Cape, Hammerfest and Alta, all of which have specific plans for new quay facilities with a view to more winter cruises.

The cruise lines will station cruise ships in Northern Norway during the “Midnight Sun season”, which will enable them to shorten sailing distances while still offering the same experiences as before – plus much more.

Viking Sky leaving Tromsø after being baptised in June 2016

Historically, a generation or so ago, Northern Norway attracted 80 per cent of the cruise traffic to Norway. Although we are now experiencing growth in the winter cruise market based on the Northern Lights phenomenon, our region has lost market share to the fjords in recent decades, mainly because we are too far from the ships’ home port. A modest 15 per cent of the cruises to Norway now go to Northern Norway and Svalbard. Bergen now has more cruise passengers annually than the whole of Northern Norway and Svalbard combined.

Northern Norway now has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to regain the position the region had. We can turn the developments in the fjords into something positive for Northern Norway by showing the cruise lines that the cruise ships are welcome, that the passengers get good experiences and that this is sustainable. According to European Cruise Service, there is a potential to triple the current number of more than 100,000 cruise passengers and thus a market share of 50 per cent in Norway if we play our cards right.

The Midnight Sun must again be used as a selling point for attracting cruise tourists who wish to go on a week-long cruise. However, it requires that the ports, the tourism industry and the politicians take a positive view to the cruise calls, and that this is done secure in the knowledge that the environment, local communities and value creation are all taken into account.


“Northern Norway now has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to regain the position the region had. We can turn the developments in the fjords into something positive for Northern Norway by showing the cruise lines that the cruise ships are welcome, that the passengers get good experiences and that this is sustainable.”


A good example of this potential can be found in Narvik. The iron ore town is currently a medium-sized cruise port, while the political leadership in the municipality is very forward-thinking. This year 25,000 passengers will arrive in the town, and they will leave behind more than NOK 20 million. The Narvik community is focusing heavily on infrastructure for the quay, railway line, road and mountains. Everything is ready for turnaround operations – and a world championship in alpine skiing. Consequently, Narvik does not have to expand hotel capacity for one large event – and has succeeded in involving the entire region in this.

We know that many mayors and destinations applaud every time a cruise ship docks because it means more life in the town and village, money at the checkout, jobs and tax revenues.

Northern Norway cannot afford to say no to this opportunity, even when you weigh up sustainability in every dimension of the word.

Rune Rafaelsen
Mayor of Sør-Varanger

Kristina Hansen
Mayor of Nordkapp

Aina Borch
Mayor of Porsanger

Monica Nielsen
Mayor of Alta

Kristin Røymo
Mayor of Tromsø

Rune Edvardsen
Mayor of Narvik

Marianne Bremnes
Mayor of Harstad

Tove Mette Bjørkmo
Mayor of Sortland

Eivind Holst
Mayor of Vågan

 Remi Solberg
Mayor of Vestvågøy

Ida Marie Pinnerød
Mayor of Bodø

Sigurd Stormo
Mayor of Meløy

Geir Waage
Mayor of Mo i Rana

Johnny Hanssen
Mayor of Brønnøysund

Erik Joachimsen
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