The Tragedy of Lofoten’s Tourism Commons

Quite a lot of Norway coverage in the FT this weekend.

And an excellent longer read by Nordic correspondent Richard Milne on the “Battle for Norway’s Soul,” over the controversial question if Norway should open up for oil exploration in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja (LoVeSe) or leave the hypothetical 1,3 billion barrels of oil untouched under the surface.

The article gives a good summary of the warring viewpoints in what is really a quadripartite conflict putting the interests of the oil industry, the fishing industry and the tourism sector against each other, while all three industries also face stiff resistance from the environmentalist movement.

I will not take sides in the oil question in this post, but only have some brief comments on the tourism question. The tourism sector in Northern Norway suffers from an obvious tragedy of the commons, with already very visible negative effects; high environmental costs yet low economic benefits.

  • There has without a doubt been quite a quality improvement in the Norwegian hospitality sector in recent years, with new accomodation and dining supply offering more than the typical Norwegian bare minimum service. Still, the high end of the Norwegian hospitality sector remains woefully underdeveloped. If Lofoten had been in Sweden and run by Swedes the region’s tourism income would probably have been twice as high, at least.
  • As the 80 year old artist/environmentalist Tor Esaissen sensibly points out Lofoten tourism cannot and should not be a mass market product. Even though it is in some way in conflict with egalitarian Norwegian values, Lofoten must be an expensive high-end tourism product. The product is based on its raw natural beauty. Too large tourist crowds will destroy that appeal.
  • The ideas of a tourist tax, maximum visitor quotas and/or minimum spending requirements are therefore radical but interesting, and worthy of serious consideration.
  • It obviously makes very little sense to have large numbers of camping tourists, who quite literally cover the landscape in shit, while leaving little money behind. The number of visitors allowed to camp in their cars or out in the open for free should be severly limited.
  • Norway must capitalise on the rising trend in avantgarde/explorer/“self realisation” tourism which generates high revenue per tourist while limiting the number of visitors. That is a way more sustainable route than continuing to let in hordes of visitors who spend minimal amounts of money. In order to achieve this there must of course be a product and service offering for visitors to spend money on, from high-end cruise travel, boutique hotels, experiences and exploration activities. In this domain the Norwegian hospitality sector probably still has much to learn from leading destinations, even though there has been a marked improvement in recent years.



The Tragedy of Lofoten’s Tourism Commons

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