By Sigurd Neubauer
“A common misperception about Norway is that it is very expensive to visit, but our hotels are cheaper than those in London, Brussels or Paris,” says CEO of the Norwegian Hospitality Association Kristin Krohn Devold.
What’s expensive in Norway is alcohol, she explains as international tourism for the summer of 2022 exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
“We recovered quickly from the pandemic and surpassed 2019 levels as Norway emerged as the most popular destination for international visitors across Scandinavia and Finland.”
The 2022 numbers also reveal that tourists, whether they’re international or Norwegians traveling in their own country, are now spending more on services than on goods. “People prefer being social again and spend money on those they love, which includes spending less on goods. Some are even preferring to purchase second hand items,” she explains.
Prior to assuming her current role in 2013, Krohn Devold was the CEO of the Norwegian Trekking Association from 2006-2013, and before that, served with distinction as Minister of Defense from 2001-2005. She represented the conservative party (Høyre) in Parliament from 1993-2006.
Krohn Devold is fond of the United States, which brings us to the topic of American tourists visiting the land of the midnight sun.
An estimated 4.5 million Americans have Norwegian ancestry while most of the Norwegian immigrants came in the nineteenth century, according to Nettavisen.
Hotels in Oslo are cheaper than those in London, Brussels and Paris
“Heritage tourism is popular among Americans with Norwegian roots as they prefer to visit the various localities from where their ancestors once migrated,” she says. The tourism CEO adds that the fjords, which are in the western part of the country, remain the most popular tourist destinations for most international tourists, including from the U.S.
Winter tourism centering on skiing and experiencing the northern lights are becoming increasingly popular, including for Americans. The war in Ukraine has not deterred Americans from visiting Norway this past summer, Kron Devold reveals.
“For British tourists wanting to go skiing, Norway is closer than the Alps,” she points out.
Oslo as a year-around tourism destination is also becoming increasingly popular. Traditionally, the Norwegian capital primarily served as the start and end point for tourists wanting to see the fjords, experience the midnight sun and adventure tourism.
Now, the Opera House and the Munch Museum are becoming popular destinations. In the process, Oslo has become known as a swimming destination for both summer and winter, the tourism CEO adds “During the summer, for instance, the Oslo beaches stretch from the Opera House to Fornebu, a suburb. During the winter ice bathing and saunas have become popular with tourists as well.”
Whether it is the composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), whose iconic music is intertwined with Norway’s national identity or the equally celebrated painter Edvard Munch (1883-1944), they both found inspiration for their art from the country’s majestic nature.
“Norwegians are very patriotic and proud of their Viking history,” says Krohn Devold, adding that the various Viking-related streaming shows – whether on Netflix, The History Channel or The Discovery Channel, have contributed to the interest in Norway as a tourism destination. “All of the Vikings lived along the fjords, which are the very same places where people live today and that the tourists want to visit.”
“We are also particularly proud of our King,” the former conservative lawmaker adds with visible passion.
On what’s unique about Norway, Krohn Devold is quick to point out the trust factor. “Norway is an equal society – economically – where everyone has access to higher education and opportunity. We have little crime; it is safe to visit, and everyone speaks English.”
“In a world of terrorism and insecurity, trust in each other is the most important thing. Society is lost once people stop trusting in each other.”
From high-end to rugged tourism
In Norway, high-end tourism means that many hotels don’t have mini bars or television; it’s all about the view from the room and proximity to kayaking on the adjacent water, the tourism executive says.
“It’s about an experience rooted nostalgia from a different time, which could include,” Krohn Devold explains, “being served coffee for breakfast from a silver kettle. Hotels in Norway are all digital, but they’re trying to make it less obvious in their ambiance, “she adds.
While Norway has a strong middle class, most of its foreign visitors are as well, but she quips: “there are some who want to be picked up at the airport by helicopter and go blueberry picking with their families while enjoying the ultimate privacy.” One of the companies providing the ultimate luxury experience is 62° North, which specializes in customizing programming around nature and wildlife.
During the winter season, which runs from November through April, popular activities include whale safari combined with the northern lights. Wales can be spotted off Norway’s northern coast, including in Finnmark, Troms and Lofoten during the winter months. Because of its deep waters, whales can also be spotted around Andøya all year around, including during the summer.
There are those who want to be picked up at the airport by helicopter and go blueberry picking with their families while enjoying the ultimate privacy
During the summer months, eagle safari is becoming increasingly popular as well, which is also popular in the northern part of the country.
A new trend in tourism is “Glamping,” which stands for glamorous camping. This could mean staying the night in a tent with Persian rugs – where champaign is readily available along with gourmet food – and the bed is comfortable, Krohn Devold explains.
Another frequent misperception about Norway is the food. “Gourmet food is relatively inexpensive in Norway where high-quality food is abundant. Many foreigners believe that Norwegian food is bland and old fashioned only.”
To make her point, Krohn Devold points to Åmot Operagard. It offers glamping, first-class culinary experience and has in the past hosted opera festivals. “Festivals are particularly popular in Norway during the summers as the Opera House and public theaters are closed. Festivals are arranged across Norway, including Oslo, from mid-June through August,” Krohn Devold says.
For those interested in pursuing a more rugged traveling experience, Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) has over 500 cabins sprinkled around the country. Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan found “it crazy” that food is ready for each arriving visitor, the CEO explains. For people trekking between DNT cabins, preparing the food for those arriving afterwards is part of the unwritten norms, she adds.
Returning to the high trust factor in society – which the DNT network of cabins represents – Krohn Devold points out that two out of three Norwegians vacation in their own country. “This is what Norwegians like to do, and it impacts tourism.”
All photo images are credited to the Norwegian Hospitality Association.
We are particularly proud of our King: Krohn Devold