When it comes to tourism, there can definitely be too much of a good thing. In the case of Norway, extensive cruise tourism and the popularity of Disney's 'Frozen' have led to visiting hordes of unprecedented size, and many Norwegians aren’t happy.
The country even slashed its promotional advertising budget for the coming summer after experiencing a flood of curious visitors that stretched resources.
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 is down to Disney’s 2013 movie Frozen, the most successful animated film of all time, which was modeled on Norway. Throngs of fans, in particular from the U.S., have come to see the real thing.
Another factor is the cruise ships that travel the gorgeous, 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 doesn’t want growth at all costs. In an unusual and refreshing approach, it has turned its focus toward sustainable, slower-paced 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.
Another indication of Norway’s shift toward slow travel is the growth of small, sustainable inns and guesthouses in rural locations, with prices competitive with bigger hotels in town. One that’s received rave reviews from visitors is 29/2 Aurland, a family-run farm hotel. It offers rustic cabins, an outdoor hot tub, and food sourced from an organic garden and livestock.
Tone Ronning, who built 29/2 Aurland with 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.”