Coal’s future is past: Opening of Svea to tourists seen as sign of Svalbard’s rapidly expanding polar night activities

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Visiting a 100-year-old patient on his deathbed sounds like a tough sell in a tourist brochure, but it seems there’s a burgeoning market in Svalbard for the cold-hearted.

Svea will begin the first-ever guided tours for recreational visitors Feb. 1, only a month or two before mining is scheduled to stop for at least three years – and possibly permanently – due to a collapse in coal prices.

“In Svea, guests will live as the miners do,” a webpage devoted to the tours, operated by Basecamp Spitsbergen, notes. “They will eat in the cantina with the miners and stay in the small rooms in the barracks just like the workers do. Here, guests can come close to this unique mining community and really feel how it is to live in the remote mining town.”

There is no mention of Store Norske’s current financial crisis that is forcing it to shut down virtually all mining and lay off most of its employees. Or that many of this season’s visitors will be watching the miners shutting down equipment and saying their goodbyes, some after working decades at the company.

Instead, prospective visitors are told “in Svea, being a very modern coal mine, the actual work is done with help of machines. Even though the machines are operated remotely, it is still dirty, dusty and demanding work, but the miners are handsomely paid.”

An eight-hour day trip to the mine 60 miles northeast of Longyearbyen costs 2,990 kroner per snowmobile driver/1,800 per passenger, with a minimum of two people per trip. A one-and-a-half day trip costs 8,990 kroner per driver/5,900 per passenger, with a minimum of three drivers.

Offering guided tours of mines to tourists, a group of people seen as a critical base of Longyearbyen’s post-coal future, began last year with a museum and tours inside the abandoned Mine 3, also provided by Basecamp.

The Svea tours, which include both snowmobile and dogsled options, are part of an increasing focus on winter tourism, Basecamp CEO Brita Knutsen Dahl told High North News.

“Before five or six years ago we had no particular emphasis on winter tourism, but now people are trying to experience the polar night and polar lights. The international audience is looking northward and that has impacted us.”

She said the growth has allowed Basecamp and other tourism companies to keep their operations open year-round – including during the traditionally slowest months of October through December – aided by factors such as an expanded number of flights, including Norwegian Air a few years ago and Finnair starting next summer.

Local political and leaders have stated a doubling of tourism – along with an equal increase in research and education – will likely be needed to offset the loss of mining.

 

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