Is mass tourism good for Norway?

On the EDGE: An opinion column about current issues in Norway and the United States
Join the Conversation!

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

mass toursim

Photo: Aftenposten
MS Azura towers over nearby houses, Strandkaien (Littoral Quay), Stavanger.

Mass tourism, group travel on tours, started in the mid-19th century in the UK, when the Thomas Cook company initiated affordable excursions for the masses. In 1844, the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) introduced leisure cruises from Southampton to destinations in Europe, including Athens, Gibraltar, and Malta. In 1900, the first purpose-built cruise ship, the Prinzessin Victoria Luise, entered service.

Thereafter, mass tourism grew, save for the durations of World Wars I and II. It gained public recognition in stages, starting in 1920 with the foundation of the International Congress of Official Tourist Traffic Associations at The Hauge and culminating in 1970 with the forming of the World Tourism Organization (WTO). In 2003, the WTO became a special agency of the United Nations tasked with promoting and developing sustainable tourism. Today, mass tourism seems here to stay. It’s undeniably a burgeoning business. According to the WTO, in 2017, some 1.3 billion tourists went on trips, a figure forecast to mushroom 66 percent by 2030.

Yet mass tourism is also ruinous. Around the world, it damages environments and overruns local communities in unsustainable ways. Earlier this year, The Telegraph, the widely regarded London newspaper, coined the term “overtourism” and proposed that it be the word of the year 2018, to be incorporated in dictionaries (Further reading).

Businesswise, tourism is a significant sector in Norway. According to Innovation Norway (the country’s national development bank), in 2017, the country hosted 9.9 million foreign tourist visitor days, most in the fjord country of the west coast, but also in the major cities. Tourism generates 4.2 percent of the Norwegian GDP, and one worker in 15 is employed in the travel and tourism sector.

Norway’s mass tourism is mostly seasonal, in spring and summer, and mostly by sea. This summer, it was critiqued by Aftenposten, Norway’s leading newspaper, in articles detailing the visits of three cruise ships (Further reading). Their vital statistics place them high among the trade’s towering tourist transporters. The MS Azura, registered in Bermuda, has 19 decks and can carry up to 3,597 passengers and a crew of 1,226. The Regal Princess, registered in Bermuda, has 19 decks and can carry 3,560 passengers and a crew of 1,346. The AIDAluna, registered in Italy, has 13 decks and can carry 2,100 passengers and a crew of 607. The total maximum population of this cruise ship trio is 12,436, which were it a city would rank among the top 50 in Norway.

mass tourism

Photo: Aftenposten
Regal Princess at Oslo’s Akershus Quay.

The most recent and acrid of the three Aftenposten articles was written by commentator Andreas Slettholm, an Oslo resident shocked by cruise ship dockings at the quay alongside the Akershus Castle and Fortress, one of the most important clusters of medieval buildings in the country. Under the tagline “Oslo is best served by ridding itself of the least profitable and most polluting form of tourism,” he surveys the facts of the downside of mass tourism. It creates problems for local communities and infrastructure, which aren’t designed to cope with sporadic invasions of hordes of tourists. Research has shown that on a per-passenger kilometer basis, the emissions of travel by cruise ship are three times those of travel by aircraft. Emission limits are being drafted for some fjords, and the city of Bergen now limits cruise ship visits to four a day. Case studies have shown that cruise passengers are the least profitable tourists for their destinations, because the ships provide all they need of food, drink, and entertainment.

Ports and shipping companies are among Norway’s most vociferous lobbyists, but they cannot hide the statistic that cruise traffic to Oslo has been halved since 2012. Might the time have come to rid Oslo of the other half of that traffic? So doing would enable renewal of the Akershus quay in step with the ongoing renewal of other fjordside stretches of the city that include bathing beaches, the Oslo Opera House, gourmet markets, and restaurants. Hopefully the politicians responsible for such decisions will decide accordingly and side with the clamant chorus of protest of this summer.

Overtourism in Norway is small compared to even more ruinous tourism elsewhere. In 2017, Barcelona, the capital of the Spanish province of Catalonia, was visited by 34 million tourists, 21 times its population. The Old Town part of Dubrovnik in Croatia was visited by up to 10,000 tourist visitors a day, with resultant damage so serious that UNESCO has considered withdrawing its World Heritage Site status. From the Taj Mahal to Reykjavik, the boon of tourism has become a bother. The worst case is Venice, which in 2017 was visited by 30 million tourists, 540 times its population of 55,000.

Indeed, in view of so sobering a survey, this NA correspondent sides with The Telegraph in contending that the neologism “overtourism” be made the word of the year.

Further reading:

Two articles by Greg Dickinson in The Telegraph (London, UK):

• “A timeline of overtourism: key moments in the global battle between locals and travellers,” May 17, 2018:

• “Dear dictionaries, this is why ‘overtourism’ should be your 2018 word of the year,” April 20, 2018:

Three Aftenposten articles (in Norwegian):

• “Det er som om vi kveles langsomt” (It’s as if we’re being slowly strangled), June 29, 2018:

• “Gigantene forurenser” (The giants pollute), July 31, 2018:

• “Crusebåtene kan seile sin egen sjø” (Cruise ships can sail their own sea), Aug. 4, 2018:–Andreas-Slettholm

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the September 21, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Avatar photo

M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.