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What’s Next for Norway’s Travel Industry After Coronavirus Crisis?

Norway travel photographer in Aalesund

The coronavirus crisis has seen Norway's tourism industry grind to a halt. With hundreds of thousands laid off and many businesses on the brink, what's next for Norwegian travel?

Tourism in Norway had been booming for a decade. Overnight stays in 2019 increased for the sixth successive year, hitting a new record of 35.2 million guest nights—a figure that excludes private rentals such as AirBnB and the ever increasing number of day visits from cruise ship passengers.

Almost 170,000 people work in the tourism sector in Norway, approximately 6.7% of the country’s workforce. Everyone in the industry had expected another record-breaking year. Then came the emergency coronavirus measures implemented to try and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Read moreNorwegian Air In Crisis

Since March 16, Norway’s borders have essentially been closed to all non-residents. While domestic travel remains possible, the authorities have strongly advised against all but essential travel.

The iconic red nose of a Norwegian Air airplane

The recent ban on overnight stays in cabins and several municipalities introducing quarantine regulations for anyone returning home has brought the travel industry to an unprecedented halt.

With some of the emergency measures extended beyond the end of April, the industry—and its employees—are facing an uncertain future.

Different approaches in Trondheim

More than 200,000 people in Norway have been temporarily laid off as a result of the crisis, with more than half of that figure coming from the travel and hospitality industries. While almost every company is tightening its belt, some are exploring new revenue opportunities.

In Trondheim, the Clarion Hotel is renting out rooms by the day as the requirement for “home office” space booms because of companies closing offices. Elsewhere in the city, wine bar Spontan is continuing its Wednesday wine tasting sessions online.

Illustration of Old Town Bridge in Trondheim, Norway

The city’s Destination Marketing Organisation Visit Trondheim represents 170 members in Norway’s former Viking capital. Director of Tourism Tanja Holmen says that the team is working hard to promote and support the city’s small businesses: “We urge everyone to support each other and buy local. For our smallest businesses, this could keep them alive.”

Some will struggle, others will thrive

The Norwegian government has announced a series of unprecedented economic measures to support businesses through the crisis. The measures—which include cash payouts to otherwise sustainable businesses that are severely affected by the current situation—is worth more than 75 billion Norwegian kroner ($7 billion).

Jan Fasting has 35 years of experience as an outdoor guide in Norway and is positive about the future. However, he says that despite the substantial government help, not every business will survive:

“I feel lucky to live in Norway where we have such a big savings account that can be used at times like this. But many tour guides are single-person businesses and they are much more vulnerable to any changes that may occur. Those that do manage to weather the storm will come out stronger.”

Hikers view of fjord in Norway
Many Norwegian travel companies are hoping for a strong summer season of domestic tourism.

A strong summer season could save many travel companies

The COVID-19 infection rate has begun to tail off. The Norwegian Prime Minister has announce that several of the emergency measures will be relaxed after Easter.

Even so, many in the industry believe there is little prospect for significant international travel this summer. Many are instead pinning their hopes on a strong summer season for domestic vacations when the current travel restrictions are relaxed.

Fasting’s business Canvas Hotels specializes in outdoor and adventure tourism, a sector he believes is well-placed to thrive after the virus restrictions are lifted: “This experience along with increased environmental concerns will make people question their future vacation choices a bit more. I think we’ll see families wanting to do more together rather than just see things.”

It’s a prediction that Holmen agrees with. “We are working on the assumption that this summer will be mostly domestic tourism. I think that once the travel restrictions are lifted, people will be very eager to travel locally and what we can offer in Norway will be very attractive. There’s clean air, experiences out in nature, and in Trondheim a thriving local food scene,” she says.

Bird flying in a Norwegian fjord

A concern for industry employees

While a strong domestic season could save many travel companies, many employees will surely find themselves out of work beyond the temporary layoffs. Seasonal employment is big business in the Norwegian travel industry, and a slowdown or even complete lack of international guests will see many of those temporary positions lost.

Stian Ruud from Trolltunga Adventures explains that they have been forced to cancel all hiking trips until the end of May and are preparing to extend that:

“We are of course very concerned for our employees including 15 well-trained guides, but as these are seasonal jobs, many have other sources of income. But we’ll try to support them as well as we can. We hope to get some support from the crisis package the government promised last week,” he says.

“Also, we are also encouraging our employees to come up with other ideas on how we can change to meet the challenges ahead. We need to change our mindset,” adds Ruud.

This article was first published on Forbes.com in March 2020 and has since been updated.

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

6 Comments

  1. Hi David,

    I was planning on relocating to Norway (Oslo) this year. Now with all the problems with the Coronavirus, job losses etc. My move looks uncertain. 🙁

    How do you think Norway will handle this pandemic and do you think this will affect others wishing to relocate/travel to Norway?

    Kind regards

    Patricia (UK)

  2. I am a bit concerned about my motorcycle trip across Norway on 15th of june. What are the predictions for travel in June? Will borders be opened until then?
    Bojan from Slovenia
    PS: Trip:
    from Hirtshall to Bergen, Bergen to Nordkapp, back through Lofoten Islands to Oslo and ferry to Kobenhagen (then again through Germany, Austria to Slovenia)

  3. As a resident of Norway I am sad for all the people who have lost their jobs in the travel business, however I think nature needs a break and so do the residents of heavily traveled countries where the nature is getting trashed by over tourism. That includes Norway. So in spite of the financial problems, I think it’s great that nature can get a breather from humans. Everything is not always all about money and I know many Norwegians who are tired of the cruise ships who dump trash in the fjords, and whose travelers don’t really add to local economies and think nothing of taking Norwegian resources for themselves, not to mention throngs of people trampling all over Lofoton and other fragile ecosystems.

    1. Not all of us are that kind, but, however it is true!
      I like Norway and its citizens. You are very nice people. Good luck!
      Bojan

  4. Hello, i know it’s very hard, almost impossible to tell. But I live in the UK and my girlfriend lives in Norway. Haven’t seen each other since the end of February. It’s hard but we are both coping fine. Is there any indication of when flights would continue? Wether half load, or even maybe quarter. As it’s only a short flight there and back. I’ve heard that the borders will be closed until the 15th June. I just want them to open, I can at least maybe get a plane, ferry, train or even drive to see her. Just not getting much clear information anywhere. Would be nice to get someone small honest opinion. It’s so hard not even knowing. If we had say a ‘date’ when we could see each other, we can plan and it would be less stress. I know it’s very hard to find out and I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking this. I’ve got a few ideas as to how flying may come back around. I was thinking July maybe… I know that may be wishful thinking, but the economic impact of this virus, surely flying would have to somewhat return in some way right?

  5. Can I travel to Norway from the UK on the 26/7/20 to stay with my niece for a week? We hope to fly in to Torp, Oslo. I am not sure if there are still restrictions on tourism.
    Many thanks

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