About Arild Molstad

Author, photojournalist, conservationist, consultant www.arildmolstad.com

Norway Adopts a “Roadmap” to Sustainable Tourism

[Above: Tourists congregate at Bryggen, a Norwegian
World Heritage site in Bergen. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot.]

Towards Sustainable Travel and Tourism In Norway: A Roadmap

Our associate Arild Molstad worked with his colleagues in Norway to have this strategy adopted on a national level. The government has accepted it, and it will now become the main vehicle for cooperation between the public and private sectors. Arild believes the platform could well become a model for other countries, especially in the developing world in coordination with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.—Portal Editor

Executive Summary:
Download complete pdf version: Tourism Roadmap for Norway

Why a Roadmap?

The Roadmap is part of the government’s Strategy for Green Competitiveness across all sectors. Main reasons: the travel and tourism industry has a great built-in potential for low-emission solutions; it is labour intensive; it encompasses  a number of economic sectors along its value chain; it can safeguard Norway’s natural and cultural capital through a greener, cross-sectoral and experience-based destination development The Roadmap serves 3 main purposes:

  1. It provides a vision for moving towards sustainable travel and tourism by 2050, and includes proposals for ways to achieve this for Norway’s travel and tourism industry.
  2. It serves as an input to the Governmental Green Competitiveness strategy.  It describes how the authorities should provide the framework for a green shift in the travel and tourism industry. In addition, it describes ways to strengthen and sustain the sector’s competitiveness while meeting the stronger needs for strict policy measures in the context of Norway’s climate and environment policy.
  3. It is also intended as a recommendation that provides Norwegian tourism enterprises with key choices that must be made in the short and long term to move towards to a sustainable society by 2050, and how  to maintain a globally competitive edge in the future.

Vision for a sustainable travel and tourism in Norway

Sustainable travel and tourism require that we take care of the nation’s nature and culture capital, strengthen the social values, bolster pride in local communities while developing new jobs with a  focus on value creation that makes travel and tourism economically viable. The perspective has to be long-term: The nature we enjoy today should also be future generations’ privilege. By 2030 Norway should have confirmed its position as one of the world`s preferred destinations for sustainable nature- and culture-based travel experiences. Towards 2050, growth of Norwegian tourism industry should primarily consist of unique tourism and travel experiences in unspoiled nature and culture settings. Transport to and from the destinations should be as climate and environmentally friendly as possible.

The travel and tourism industry will direct its marketing efforts towards carefully selected target groups, based on the”High yield – Low impact” principle.

 Unique and adventurous experiences

Active nature and cultural experiences should derive from the nation’s traditional outdoor activities, where development of green experiences can be found along the entire value chain; both at sea, along the coast, in fjords, in the mountains, forests and in urban settings.

The country should offer authentic nature and cultural travel experiences along the coast, offshore, and in the form of cultural landscapes, giving the travelers a ”sense of place” – a feeling of authenticity and proximity to unspoiled nature, complemented with culture content of high value.

To secure Norway`s reputation for enjoying opportunities for unique and adventurous experiences, Norway should not present itself as a destination where crowds and mass tourism dominate.

Travelers in Norway will experience clean air, pure water unadulterated by environmentally harmful emissions and waste disposal, which reduces the destinations’ attractiveness and ecological health. All waste should as a matter of principle be reclaimed, reused and recycled.

Transport to and from the destination should take place with the lowest possible greenhouse gas emissions and other emissions affecting air and water purity.

Hotels and restaurants should strive to a have low energy consumption, based on renewable energy sources and by making use of modern technology.

Food and beverage products served must to the extent possible be sourced locally with high quality based on environmentally friendly production methods, traditions and healthy raw materials.

A cooperative travel and tourism sector

All tour and travel operators, large and small, should cooperate and offer a variety of experiences to foreign and Norwegian travelers. The travel and tourism industry should add social and economic value to society. Norway should be marketed as a destination rich in nature and cultural attractions, thereby attracting more travelers willing to pay for visiting attractions that have been well taken care of and carefully protected.

Norway offers opportunities for actively experiencing nature, combined with enjoyment of local food, cultural heritage, a vibrant cultural life and a wide variety of accommodation options. These scarcity values are increasing in demand globally. However, the same values can be degraded through interventions such as the construction of hydro power plants, transmission lines, wind power parks, large road construction projects and excess use of wetlands. This threatens the very qualities the travel and tourism industry depends on. In addition, Norway has recently seen a liberalization of the rules for motor traffic in open terrain, whose noise jeopardizes the enjoyment of pure, silent nature.

Norway`s reputation as a natural and environmentally friendly attractive destination is also affected by dumping of waste from mining. Moreover, the possible expansion of gas and petroleum extraction in fragile and vulnerable areas can also affect the reputation negatively. The costs linked to tourism’s wear and tear of nature and culture attractions are not yet quantified, and there is a scarcity of economic models for estimating value depreciation of unspoilt nature in current decision making processes. There is an urgent need to identify and develop methods and models documenting actual revenues and costs where a number of conflicting sectors and trade-offs are in opposition.

Marketing and a rapid increasing information flow through internet and social media make it more challenging to control tourism traffic. Some destinations have therefore experienced a strong growth in the number of visitors without being sufficiently prepared for managing visitor flows. This adds to crowding, especially is this the case near fragile tourism icons that are vulnerable to mass tourism.

Emissions from cruise ships into clean air and water cause local pollution problems, particularly in attractive destinations such as the fjords on the western coast. The number of cruise ships in the world is increasing fast, and ports of call are often vulnerable to mass tourism and poorly prepared to accommodate a large number of travelers arriving at the same time in peak season. Several of the troubled destinations are also the most popular, located in the western fjord landscape, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Norway’s tourism and travel need to be better coordinated among a wide range of stakeholders. The yardstick for measuring success for Norway’s tourism must no longer consist of counting and maximizing the number of visitors. This is not a suitable or viable strategy to promote a greener tourism for the country and its destinations.

Strategy and pathways towards 2030 and 2050                                                           

The goal of the Norwegian travel and tourism industry will be to offer products that produce low-emissions memorable travel experiences with built-in opportunities for creating prosperity for all stakeholders, without jeopardizing the health of the planet and the local environment. To implement this vision, a closer cooperation and sharing of responsibility between the industry and the authorities must be encouraged.

Principles for sustainable travelling and green competiveness

The travel and tourism industry will apply the principles of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the Norwegian Expert Commission on Green Competiveness to secure a sustainable development short- and long-term. 3 of the 10 principles from the Expert Commission are emphasized here:

  • The Polluter Pays Principle
  • External environmental impacts (also known as externalities) should be given a price value
  • Green measures should be rewarded, while activities or interventions that produce high greenhouse gas emissions should be taxed or penalized

There is a need for a stronger and more holistic approach to tourism to convert the growing interest in travel to Norway into green values that at the same time safeguard the nation’s many precious but environmentally fragile destinations. The government and the municipalities have to take the same course, by offering green incentives and stimulating legislation measures that benefit not only the travel and tourism sector but other parts of Norwegian society.

The authorities have an important role to play in stimulating changes to Norway’s travel and tourism. Legislation and economic instruments can effectively encourage performances on the part of all stakeholders, including use of incentives to reward pro-green innovation and penalties for damage caused to unspoiled nature.

Norway’s Allemannsrett must be upheld, securing free access for all to nature, according to Friluftsloven. However, it will be necessary to find acceptable ways to regulate particularly valuable and vulnerable areas.

The travel industry must adapt to climate changes, focus on prolonging the holiday and shoulder seasons, anticipate more powerful precipitation, changed conditions for food production and increasing vulnerabllity.

In the main Roadmap document, the role of the private and public sector has been described in more detail.


Trade-offs to implement the sustainable vision towards 2050

  • How to incorporate the needs of sustainable tourism in decision processes involving expansion/construction of hydroenergy and transport networks?
  • How to prevent decay and damage to nature’s treasures without compromising the principles underlying Allemannsretten (every man’s access to public land)?
  • How to access funds for responsible destination development and conservation protecting Allemannsretten?
  • What does it take to make tourism in Norway carbon neutral or eliminate climate gas emissions?
  • Is it possible to design short tourism circuits and itineraries and at the same time offer «off the beaten track» experiences for the visitor?
  • How to put a price on the wear and tear of Norway’s tourism attractions so that such valuations can facilitate funding and prevent expansion of infrastructure that reduces the country’s nature and culture capital?
  • How can Norway enact policies and legislation that make it possible to earmark funding that helps finance maintenance and protection of the country’s natural and cultural treasures?


Examples of trade-off challenges:

  • The competion for access to marine resources between the oil and gas industry, the fisheries and the tourism industry
  • The future of wild salmon vs fish-farming interests: The former is threatened, while the profitable fish-farming industry is still coping with environmental issues
  • While many farmers want more culling of wildife such as wolves and eagles, conservation organizations are opposed. Resolution of this issue will affect Norway’s international reputation
  • Some of Norway’s iconic World Heritage tourism attractions are suffering from crowding in peak season, in part due to the dramatic increase in international cruise traffic: a classic revenue vs. protection issue that is looking for an urgent solution

New Tsunami Hits Phuket: Mass Tourism

[Crowds seeking nightlife in Phuket. Photo: Terrazzo]

Recently waiting in Phuket airport for my delayed Thai Airways flight to Bangkok, I found myself surrounded by Russian travelers queuing up for nonstop flights to Vladivostok, Novosibirsk, and a few other cities whose names were only vaguely familiar to me.

Facing congestion in Phuket, whether at the airport, on the roads or on beaches has long been a familiar phenomenon. What is different is that the congestion is mostly caused by the onslaught of mass tourism from Russia and China.

Due to the recent ruble nosedive, it is now the big Chinese tour groups that are changing – rapidly and probably forever—what was once a quaint beach escape destination. Despite Phuket’s growing commercialization, Fortune magazine in 2005 still called it one of the five most attractive places in the world to retire.

A local hotelier I spoke to reported a significant change. Once his hotel (whose identity he wanted to keep to himself) use to be monopolized by sun-hungry Scandinavians. Now, he said, they occupy a mere 10% of his room capacity. Signs everywhere from the airport to roadside cafes appear in Russian, Chinese, and English.

No wonder. Hoteliers all over Southeast Asia are gearing up to cope with the massive influx, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The figures tell the story: Today an estimated 50% of Chinese citizens hold passports. In a few years China will boast more dollar millionaires than in the US. It is their accumulated spending power that no doubt helps putting China in top position in terms of outbound tourism spending, with expenditures reaching US$ 165 billion in 2014—an increase of 28% from the preceding year

In 2013 Phuket received 8 million visitors. In an effort to meet the increased demand, Phuket International Airport has been spending close to 6 billion baht to accommodate an expected 12.5 million passengers annually, of which the great majority will be foreigners. Soon a majority of these will be carrying a Chinese passport, up from a mere 20,000 Chinese arrivals in 2007! The Chinese presence is felt not only in southern Thailand, but all over southeast Asia: In 2014 the China National Tourism Administration recorded more than 107 million trips abroad, up 10.5% from the year before.

According to Thom Henley, an American travel writer and Phuket resident, tourist crowds bring the ratio between foreigners and locals in high season well above ten to one. The environment takes a beating. “I only rarely go for a swim in the ocean,” he says, “it’s just too polluted, and poses a public health threat, unless you stick to the Northern part of the island, or all the way down at the Southern end, where the strong currents wash effluents and debris away from the beaches.” Which perhaps explained the somewhat pallid skin color of the Russians waiting in line for their return flights; they seemed to have spent more time in Phuket’s numerous bars and massage parlors than in the surf.

What was once a densely forested island with lush hillsides facing wide stretches of beach now boasts 1,100 resorts with 24/7 traffic jams. Writer Tony Parsons (his recent 2012 novel: Catching the Sun) recommends North Phuket’s two national parks—Sirinath and Khao Phra Thaeo—as escapes for travelers trying to capture at least some of Phuket’s old magic, a safe distance away from the hordes in Karon and Patong. Here, he writes, “the beaches still have their steep natural slope so that giant turtles can crawl ashore and lay their eggs.”

Five years ago the government tried to launch a “green tourism” campaign, hiring police and soldiers to enforce a clean-up of polluted areas. At the same time, however, they allowed the construction of a monstrosity called Fantasea, a shabby reproduction of a Thai-style temple, where tourists flock to be photographed on the back of gaudily dressed live elephants, Las Vegas-style.

It is not an enviable fate to be “loved to death” by two populous nations whose citizens only recently can afford foreign travel, and who are not known for their environmental sensitivities. But Thailand’s record in the stewardship of its own nature capital is not to be applauded, as the ecosystems of countless island has paid a high price in the chase for short-term foreign currency.