‘Not a people zoo’ – locals peeved at tourists peering and peeing at cabins near town

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OK, let’s try this again: Just because locals are living the wild life doesn’t make them wildlife.

Numerous complaints about tourists – and maybe even a rogue tour guide or two – intruding on private cabins (occupied and not) have been voiced in recent weeks, with visitors doing everything from barging in uninvited to using them as wind screens while answering the call of nature. While cabin owners say the problem isn’t new, or necessarily increasing, there is concern efforts by the tourism industry to educate visitors about proper behavior don’t always seem to be taking hold.

“My experience at Easter was not the OK kind,” wrote Anne Lise Sandvik, who started the most recent debate on a Longyearbyen community Facebook page, describing her holiday at her cabin across the channel from Longyearbyen. “I have great tolerance and understanding that people are seeking Hiorthhamn, and I gladly invite them in for coffee and thawing.

This is not about being welcome or not. It’s about common decency and that both guides and others should know where the limits are for inquiring (and pissing).”

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A trio of students from The University Centre in Svalbard keeps their distance from a cabin at Hiorthhamn during a hike along the shoreline earlier this month. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

Much of the debate focused on the role of tour operators in such visits, with several respondents stating definitively some guides – possibly newer or independent ones – are indeed among the guilty.

“We encountered a bunch there last summer – with a guide,” wrote Hanne Bjerk, a sporting goods store manager, on the Facebook page. “They used the cottages as windbreak while they were going to the toilet.”

Such assertions are upsetting because they lack specifics, said Ronny Brunvoll, director of Visit Svalbard, in an interview.

“If people have anything to complain about be specific,” he said. “Why spread rumors about things that may not be true?”

Brunvoll said he’s also “sick and tired of these rumors on Facebook” instead of having people report suspected bad behavior to the tourism agency – or police, in the event of a break in or other illegal behavior.

Complaints about poor behavior by tourists have piled up in different ways in recent years and raised concerns about what may happen in the future as Longyearbyen seeks to double the number of visitors to help offset the loss of coal mining jobs.

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Sval and Bard return to Svalbard – lacking proper clothing and a rifle, of course – during a March unveiling of giant exhibits at Svalbard Airport and elsewhere featuring their satirical videos about improper tourist behavior. Photo courtesy of Kairostudio.

Among the first English phrases many preschoolers are learning is shout is “no photos” at cruise ship passengers, who also have been known to offer candy and other trinkets to the tykes, walk uninvited through kindergartens like they’re museums – and in one man’s case dropping his drawers and peeing on the fence kids were looking out from. There have also been numerous reports of summer tourists riffling through cars, intruding into homes and “pinching” fur samples off stuffed polar bears around town.

Residents in the area hit by the avalanche last Dec. 19 that destroyed 11 homes were vexed earlier this year when numerous visitors (and possibly guides) were treating the wreckage as a disaster tourism site, to the point of aggressively stopping some residents seeking their personal stories.

Government and tourism agencies have launched a number of efforts to inform tourists about proper behavior in Svalbard, ranging from brochures to films shown on cruise ships to a series of claymation “Sval and Bard” videos featuring two bumbling characters breaking the “10 Common Sense Rules of Svalbard.” The characters and members of the Italian studio that produced the series returned to Longyearbyen in March to unveil large promotional posters and video exhibits that will be placed at locations such as Svalbard Airport and the Visit Svalbard tourism bureau.

 

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