A Revealing Ocean View of Tourism

A “High Level” international Ocean Panel has come out with a blunt change-your-ways-or-else report aimed at the customary models for coastal and marine tourism. Norwegian journalist and consultant-participant Arild Molstad sums up the content and opines about its implications for any destination with a port and a coast.

The Mediterranean Sea is more vulnerable even than open ocean due to its confined geography. Photo: Arild Molstad

A powerful call for regenerative tourism on coastal destinations

“The very thing that draws people to coastal and marine destinations continues to be threatened by tourism itself. The unprecedented pause in global tourism has provided a unique opportunity to reassess and reset.” So states a recent report on international coastal zones – Opportunities for Transforming Coastal and Marine Tourism.* Co-authored by the 17 nations** of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel), the tourism report has indeed done some reassessing, with observations and recommendations relevant for coastal destinations everywhere.

The report doesn’t mince words, calling “the current model of coastal and marine tourism … inherently unsustainable, characterised by high levels of economic leakage, seasonality and vulnerability.” Don’t be misled by the abundance of marine references. The tourism report is not a message in a bottle from the swirling Garbage Patch somewhere out there in the Pacific.

Coral reefs and one of the longest coastlines in the world make the Philippine marine environment rich in biodiversity – a draw for marine tourism crucial to the economy. [Photo courtesy of Arild Molstad]

Marine and coastal tourism represents approximately 50% of the total sector globally, including infrastructure, impact, visitation, and spending.

Considering that magnitude, the report should be seen as much more than a critical view from somebody just “…sittin’ at the dock of the bay/ watchin’ the tide roll away,” as Otis Redding sang.


As a seafaring nation with one of the longest coastlines in the world, it fell to Norway to take the initiative in launching a fast-track action plan to safeguard the oceans from escalating pollution, accelerating climate change, and rapid loss of biodiversity.

Three years ago Norway’s government invited 13 countries to form a multi-sector ‘coastal coalition’ to spearhead and embrace a more sustainable, holistic approach to industries such as fishing, shipping, food production and finance. Marine-related tourism was also an obvious choice for this list: By 2030, according to the report, coastal and marine tourism will become the largest ocean economic sector.

The idea of the Ocean Panel was conceived in 2017 in a meeting between the former president of the World Resources Institute, Andrew Steer, and Norway’s Minister for Climate and Environment, Vidar Helgesen. Present at the conference was John Kerry, who has since been a strong supporter of the initiative, which was initially financed by Norway.

Headed by a “High Panel” of professionals, and with the World Resources Institute as a secretariat, the Ocean Panel subsequently brought in many tourism experts, including me. In 2019 we were all looking forward to going to work in brainstorming and problem-solving sessions on all continents. That didn’t happen.

What happened was Covid-19, triggering instead innumerable digital encounters over two years across all time zones. Confronted by the implosion of coastal tourism everywhere – we realized that the otherwise catastrophic coronavirus crisis came with some silver linings.

It would give us time to:

a) identify and diagnose structural weaknesses in the traditional tourism industry,
b) find ways to address the acute needs of nearly one million tourism workers whose future livelihoods were jeopardized, and
c) build a more sustainable tourism model for ports, bays, beaches, fjords, inlets, archipelagos, islands and coastal communities, where counting visitors as a prime measure of success must end.

John Kerry. [Photo courtesy United Nations]

In April 2022, international delegates from the private and public sectors, plus youth leaders and philanthropic organizations announced major commitments worth more than $16 billion to protect ocean health at an ocean conference in the Pacific island nation of Palau, a member of the Ocean Panel initiative. In his keynote speech, John Kerry, now the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, told the audience: ‘We’re starting now finally to act with the urgency that the moment demands, even as we understand that we have to accelerate even more.’


A circuit breaker

The report launched at the Ocean Summit this summer put it this way: “The global pandemic… offered a circuit breaker to reflect on traditional forms of coastal and marine tourism that are no longer sustainable or viable.” The pandemic, the report stated, became a “unique and timely opportunity for bold action” that gave the industry and the public sector “a chance to change and reshape the sector” through political leadership.

I find much of the wording in the report (digesting the 12-page Executive summary is a good start) to be remarkably clear and topical, hitting most of the marks where global tourism so far has failed. In particular I welcome the use of the term regenerative, as it goes beyond ‘sustainability’ with its emphasis on ‘rebuilding and restoring damaged or depleted ecosystems, communities and traditions.’

A regenerative approach

The regenerative concept makes an important link to the threat that has been called ‘the twin brother of climate change’ – the speeding decline of global biodiversity. It also makes reference to traditions and community values, significant when many of the 50-plus marine World Heritage sites are besieged by mass tourism.

The report strongly encourages a more systemic, holistic approach to tourism in places where water meets land, from ports to all types of coastal shorelines. This struck me: Isn’t it about time that we begin to view ports as portals, that is, entry points where marine and terrestrial ecosystems, e.g. National Parks and Marine Protected Areas, communicate and connect – sustainably as well as synergistically?

When the report makes an important reference to the tourism industry’s “invisible burden” I am reminded how many of the sharpest industry experts and advisors have been at work. Their thinking appears in such summarizing assertions such as “… the economic gains from tourism are not distributed equally, with large foreign companies and tour operators typically receiving disproportional benefits. When comparing the true socio-economic impacts, the costs of attracting and retaining mass tourism arrivals often outweigh the benefits.”

A transformation needed

The report calls for a transformation of tourism. Existing financial and incentive structures will need to be revised, requiring innovative financial mechanisms to ensure a just transition. The economic damage of the pandemic to tourism-dependent destinations calls for new funding packages, fiscal policies, and non-traditional lending arrangements. As examples, the report describes user and entry fees, conservation and environment taxes, concession fees, plus the use of “blue bonds” and conservation trust funds, lease arrangements and protected area charges.  Such a paradigm shift will require investments and monetary stimuli.

What the High Panel calls the “the underutilisation of tourist fees” can represent a vast source of revenue for conservation initiatives to strengthen resource management and help raise revenues locally.

Large cruise ships such as these in St. Maarten will face more restrictions in countries such as Norway, which plans to protect its fjord ecosystems from megaship pollution. [Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

One would be to “undertake value chain analysis to align strategies and interventions to eliminate leakage and boost local economic prosperity” – proposed in various EU regions. This is a hot topic in a country such as Norway, where polluting cruise vessels will likely no longer be welcome in the fjords by 2026. An intervention of this magnitude will clearly pose a challenge for a cruise industry facing turbulent times, with frozen assets and an increasingly debated Big Cruise business model. This is prompting urgent demands from fragile Caribbean and Mediterranean destinations “to re-think and re-imagine tourism.”

New series of work sessions planned

In Norway, the nation’s 2017 “Road Map to Sustainable Tourism” will likely be revised and updated. Since the nation remains a major financing source for the Ocean Panel, its prime minister will co-lead upcoming High Panel meetings.

Will the report trigger enough courage and resources to transform a tourism industry ripe for reform? Or will “build back better” recede into merely “build back” – the way Otis Redding’s song ends: “Nothin’s gonna change/ everything still remains the same”?

If so, an enormous amount of wisdom and energy has been misspent.

*Full title: “Opportunities for Transforming Coastal and Marine Tourism” Towards Sustainability, Regeneration and Resilience.] An excellent 12-page Executive Summary report is available, giving an overview of the core messages in 132 pages report (which would have benefited greatly from a more thoughtful selection of photos, with captions, to illustrate and underscore more of the cases covered in the main text).  The report is accompanied by a collection of Expert Perspectives on how to enact the shift to a sustainable, more equitable tourism sector, across the value chain. 

**This year the US, France and the UK came on board, joining Norway, Australia, Ghana, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Mexico, Indonesia, Palau, Kenya, Namibia, Japan, Portugal, Jamaica. All 17 nations met this June in Portugal at the pandemic-postponed (twice) Ocean Summit. 

Arild Molstad is the author of several acclaimed books, hundreds of articles. He is also a photographer, film-maker, and an internationally recognized conservation and tourism expert.

Resurrected Matera Faces Overtourism

Inviting Hollywood into your home can backfire badly. Often, a roaring success on the screen may cause instant, irreversible collateral damage to the destination, its culture and citizens. Arild Molstad explores the too-much, too-fast story of Italy’s ancient, now-restored town of Matera.  

Once Called “the Shame of Italy,” Matera Grapples with Modernity, UNESCO, and James Bond

Until three years ago few but Italians had heard about this little town at the southern end of Italy’s scenic Apennines’ mountain range. For centuries it was a neglected, forgotten place. Now millions of travelers are placing Matera near the top of their bucket list of dream destinations.

Hard to find – and for those who knew its awful past – easy to keep hidden in the Sassi Gorge  (Italian for “stones”), Matera fills a narrow ravine where its stacked dwellings, churches, and monasteries were carved into the limestone.

Daniel Craig poses in front of Matera’s famous cathedral while taking a break from filming his new James Bond movie, No Time to Die. [Photo courtesy of Esquire Middle East]

Had somebody in the 1950’s told  the poor, overcrowded, and undernourished inhabitants of Matera that their children and grandchildren would be living in a site inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List (1993), they would have been laughed out of town.  The Sassi, which once housed 20,000 inhabitants, was reduced by then to around 1,500 people – still today’s population.

The Town that God Forgot   

Matera was first caught in the global spotlight before World War II, when Benito Mussolini’s regime deported a young anti-fascist artist to this desolate town, where he could do the regime no harm. Instead, Carlo Levi wrote Christ Stopped at Eboli, shocking the world. Photo: atp.basilicata.it

It was only in 1986 that the Italian government, with World Heritage status in mind, decided to invest serious money into the rehabilitation of Matera. A handful of years later rumours about this unique site started slowly to circulate. Its position – deep in Italy’s Mezzogiorno region and off the beaten track – was the reason that early visitors called it “a hidden treasure.” Even backpackers exploring the triangle between Naples, Rome, and the Adriatic port of Bari missed it.

When I found myself at the edge of the Murgia plateau in 2021, staring speechlessly down at Matera’s unique network of caves, churches, and alleyways, I was looking at what is said to be one of the three oldest continuously inhabited towns on our planet (the other two: Aleppo and Jericho).

For an absorbing half-hour video presentation of Matera’s history, today’s visitors flock to Casa Noha, an interactive museum housed in a former palazzo. Here I was to learn the long and dramatic journey Matera had taken, from abject poverty during two world wars, to winning European Capital of Culture status in 2019.  

Dangerous living conditions, poor sanitation and disease forced residents to abandon the Sassi after World War II. The writer Carlo Levi, an anti-Fascist writer exiled to the region by the Mussolini regime, compared Matera to Dante’s Inferno in his immortal book, Christ Stopped at Eboli. Matera became known as “the shame of Italy’’ as its hapless, suffering inhabitants succumbed to malnutrition and water-borne diseases at the bottom of the ravine.

La Grotte della Civita: one of the exclusive, repurposed cave dwelling boutique hotels by owner and conservationist Daniele Kihlgren. Photo: atp.basilicata.it

Levi’s book, a heart-breaking wake-up call to Italian authorities, was also filmed here. Wrote Levi: “To this shadowy land, that knows neither sin nor redemption from sin, where evil is not moral but is only the pain residing forever in earthly things, Christ did not come. Christ stopped at Eboli.”  

Comes the Resurrection

The restoration of Matera begun in the 1980s was partly hard labor, partly an outstanding artistic and architectural achievement as the wild, limestone canyon prepared for the coming of more visitors. “It was a sight to behold,” sighs Gianni, a local filmmaker. “Now tourism is outpacing us, year by year, in our efforts to safeguard Matera’s authenticity and integrity.”

In the street, older inhabitants had stories to tell of those who left, and how they refused to return to face the old town’s sudden prosperity. To them, it brought back dark memories of desperation and ignominy. All complained about tourism-driven higher housing and grocery prices. “Where are the benefits?” they asked as Matera received a record-breaking one million visitors in 2019. 

UNESCO Inscription Requires Protection and Management 

Numerous laws, plans, statutes, institutions, and departments to safeguard Matera came into being when Matera was accorded UNESCO World status in 1993. Later, a management plan was drawn up to address tourism and visitation challenges in the historical area.  

The Municipality established a special department, “Ufficio Sassi,” in collaboration with several local offices of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities, recognizing “the need for vigilance in respect” to prevent “negative impact to the development in the buffer zone between the ancient quarters and the modern town of Matera.” I wonder: Has this turned into a bureaucratic maze, to be exploited by fast-money investors with little time for conservation?

Matera by day. Photo: Charlotte Molstad

Matera – A Movie Set

Matera’s appearance has often been compared to a movie set. It is hard to disagree, as I rise early to watch the sun embrace the town’s facades, adding patches of orange and deep shadow to the Sassi Gorge down below, from which only the soft sounds of street sweepers and somebody strumming a guitar emerge. 

Connoisseurs of movie classics will recognize Matera – known as “little Jerusalem” in films by famous directors such as De Sica, Visconti, Pasolini, the Taviani brothers, and Mel Gibson’s controversial The Passion of Christ. 

My terrace is only a stone’s throw away from a film location shot near the cathedral – a film now being watched by millions of James Bond fans all over the world, as Daniel Craig, in his slick, souped-up Aston Martin, performs impossible hairpin turns in the narrow alleyways and steep staircases. I’d hired a guide to Sassi’s secret hideaways, who suggested that the title of the film, No Time to Die, might be a fitting headline for “an editorial in the local newspaper to help save Matera’s priceless treasures.” He was referring to the numerous unique, fragile cave paintings depicting scenes from the holy scripture.

Matera by night: Wonderfully spooky golden light falls on a maze of streets. Photo: Arild Molstad

Others were more direct. The manager of high-end boutique hotel (who spoke on the promise of anonymity) decried the recent wave of too many restaurants, bars, arts and craft shops, guides that are not ambassadors of this beautiful town, or neglect to respect rules and regulations.” He said, “Residents who moved back in the 90s are now leaving the historical center.” They fear further exploitation and commercialization.” Surely not an unknown phenomenon in UNESCO sites such as nearby Naples or in Sicily – not to mention Venice. 

Taking on 007

During my stay, I spoke to others who would welcome a “007 workshop” – to be convened urgently, similar to a town meeting held in 2019, during the Capital of Culture festivities. Already at that time, prominent local leaders were expressing concern about the tourism onslaught, led by Raffaello De Ruggieri, then mayor, who famously told New York Times, “We don’t want tourists,” adding, “it could deplete a city of its soul.” 

On my last evening, the view from my terrace transports me deep into history, bringing to mind Carlo Levi’s words: Matera “seemed to melt away, as if it were sucked back into time ….”

Evening comes to the Sassi Gorge of Matera. Photo: Arild Molstad

A potent cup of espresso kicks me back into the present. With Daniel Craig as Matera’s unofficial, possibly reluctant tourism ambassador, will the film’s spectacular sky dive into the shadows of the gorge spell the end for this still authentic, well-preserved UNESCO site?

The current mayor prefers to take an optimistic view of the worldwide attention that the Bond spectacle can bring to a place still reeling from the pandemic. In a way, I understand. The Matera of today looks and feels like a treasure chest, filled with vitality, culture, priceless traditions, shared heritage – and a need to survive. Its story continues. Clearly, Matera has sent me on my way with an arrivederci – “until we see each other again.”

Even in Norway, Innkeepers Have Struggled

[Above: Aurland Fjord from a mountain farm.
Photos by Montag, unless otherwise noted.]

In the time of Covid, small lodges have flirted with failure, even in the fjords of oil-rich Norway. Arild Molstad reports on one couple who – “showing true viking spirit and eco-courage” – believe they can beat the odds by going greener still.

In Aurland, Norway, Good Intentions Contend with Cancellations

Is another annus horribilis on the horizon for tourism? The industry is still gasping for air – and rescue funding – in the wake of Covid-19. It was not only the world’s weakest and most fragile regions that were hit hard. Top destinations, from California and China to Portugal and France, are still reeling from the impact.

Even in the legendary fjords and mountains of affluent Norway – high on many travellers’ bucket lists – a sense of panic has permeated the atmosphere.

Photo: Tone Rønning Vike

“Just when we were ready to welcome our first guests of the 2020 season, the cancellations came in thick and fast,” says Tone Rønning Vike, who with her husband Bjørn runs the couple’s prize-winning, high-end ecolodge. Called 29|2, after the property number of the farm, the lodge (left) nestles in the spectacular fjord setting of Aurland. The situation was unusually dire for the couple; they had bet their savings, signed a steep mortgage, changed jobs, and moved the entire family to cater to a fast-growing, sophisticated, environmentally engaged international market.

“It is impossible not to get a strong sense of the importance of taking care of nature and culture, but also of the need to nurture a close relationship between the government and local entrepreneurs.”

They had sound reasons to be optimistic. Norway’s tourism engine –“Powered by Nature,” Visit Norway likes to proclaim – was firing on all cylinders, and their National Geographic “geotourism”-inspired approach to holistic conservation was beginning to pay off. Their ecolodge is situated near three world class attractions: the stunning UNESCO World Heritage site Naeroyfjord; the narrow gauge zig-zag train climbing a steep gully from the cruise harbour of Flåm; and the wild, breathtakingly beautiful Aurland mountain trek, also known as “Norway’s Grand Canyon.”

What 8 years ago was a dream, became a reality – and then turned into a nightmare.

Aurland Fjord, Norway.

For Guests: Small Footprint, Big Impression
“We did everything by the book – consulted the eco-manuals, had our CO2 emissions close to zero, got the price-quality balance spot-on,” explains the couple. “Our clients were enthusiastic, even our dog could smell success! We were looking forward to taking guests on excursions that make a small footprint but leave a huge impression.”

Both Tone and Bjørn strongly believe in supporting the local economy. In restoring the farmhouses, they worked closely with farmers and craftsmen in Aurland and the surrounding valleys. One of the world’s northernmost wine producers has added to the cellar’s ample supply of natural and organic wines.

They have fought hard for restoring the wild fish stock in the Aurland river, once ranked as one of the world’s three leading sea trout rivers by British lords who first made the region famous. As a 29|2 ecolodge guest, you don’t run the risk of being served farmed fish. “It’s not good for the body, or for mother nature,” says Tone.

Aurland has been popular among anglers for generations. Some still come to enjoy the sport, but more now come for the scenery.

“The 2019 season proved us right,” says Bjørn, a master builder whose expertise with wood is well known in western Norway. Bjørn constructs and restores wooden houses and cabins in some of Norway’s most spectacular valleys and mountains. Being a “wood surgeon,” he has restored old vicarages and 16th-18th century houses. Few know the region better.

The Shutdown

“We were making good money, and had a waiting list for 2020 bookings,” he says. “Then Norway closed its borders – boom!” Tears come to his eyes. “And 98 percent of our guests were foreigners…”

Innkeepers Bjørn and Tone Rønning Vike. “In a globalised world, we’re embracing the local and authentic with our Aurland venture,” says Tone. “Isn’t that why people travel – to explore and expand their horizons?”

The family had meetings late into the night. How many domestic tourists would arrive and at least compensate for a small part of the strong international revenue flow that was lost in Norway’s short summer season?

Tourism authorities, too, burned the midnight oil. Clearly a massive government injection of funds would be required to prevent a wholesale financial disaster from hitting the fragile fjordland economy. But even in oil-rich Norway not everybody could be bailed out. Compromises had to be made, not only to save those enterprises forming the backbone of the nation’s sustainable tourism industry, but entire towns and villages.

Brighter Prospects
With an emergency bank loan and a generous government hand-out, the couple now hope for brighter prospects in 2021. Crates of vaccine are crossing the border into Norway to meet the needs of the 5.5 million population.

“We would have to say that we are very fortunate to live in a rich country like Norway,” says Tone. “The compensation we have received from the government has eased the situation. We no longer fear we would have to sell the property at great loss. It´s however a fragile security net. We have to make sure we´re not totally dependent on cross-Atlantic visitors. As we are turning towards the Nordic and North European market, I think Norway as a destination should focus more on short-distance travellers, too, instead of Asia, Australia, and the Americas, to reduce CO2 emissions.”

“Norwegian authorities have to understand that our recent dependency on big cruise ships crowding our fjords has to come to an end.”

Wherever you turn in Aurland, you find yourself in a close encounter with nature, but also with the challenges and responsibilities this entails for local tourism entrepreneurs. As in other remote, fragile, and majestic parts of the world, it is impossible not to sense the importance of taking care of nature and culture, but also of the need to nurture a close relationship between government and local entrepreneurs. This is likely to become one of the keystones in Norway’s post-pandemic tourism strategy, to be launched this spring.

After the Virus, Will Norway Get It Right?

“I hope so,” Tone says, “Norwegian authorities have to understand that our recent dependency on big cruise ships crowding our fjords has to come to an end. The signs are good; all polluting cruise ships will be banned from the UNESCO fjords by 2026. And long before that, we have to find a way to generate a tax where visitors are given a chance to co-finance the costs of conserving our precious nature and culture.”

Idyllic Aurland countryside. The couple thinks the pandemic has given them time to re-think and restructure. “If we were the ‘green heart’ of Fjord Norway before, we’ll be even more so now,” says Tone.

Norway is facing several dilemmas. Its traditional “free access” policy for visitors to explore its natural attractions is increasingly on a collision course with polluting tourism crowds during peak season. Only a relatively a small portion of visitor revenue trickles down to the communities along the fjords. Calls for a tourism tax are gaining support, but is it politically viable, given the corona crisis?

“Covid-19 was perhaps our planet’s way of saying ‘enough is enough,’” says Tone. “Plundering ecosystems can cause disease and epidemics, and I sincerely hope we have learned a lesson. As people running a tourist business it is perhaps an odd thing to say: But we have to reduce travelling. More planes on the ground, maybe one wonderful vacation a year, instead of long weekends flying here and there. We will make sure to be ready to give our guests a warm welcome in quaint, quiet surroundings when they come. And continue to focus on the principles of ecotourism.”

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