CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR TUESDAY: Hurtigruten hopes to resume Svalbard cruises in late June/early July, return of large cruise lines unlikely this year

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While local officials have all but written off this summer’s cruise ship season in terms of large ships, Hurtigruten announced it is hoping to resume sailings along the Norwegian coast and to Svalbard in late June or early July.

The company has continued limited sailings on the mainland during the coronavirus crisis since it serves a critical role as a ferry line for people/cargo in addition to tourism. But CEO Daniel Skjeldam, in a media briefing, said they are anticipating at least a partial summer tourism season – even if it consists mostly of domestic travellers – although the timeline for resuming cruises depends on a lot of external factors including official restrictions.

“We believe it will happen gradually,” he said. “That means starting with domestic operations in Norwegian waters – both the scheduled service along the Norwegian coast, and Arctic expedition cruises many of which takes place fully within Norwegian waters. We hope the gradual restart can happen already from June/July. We are optimistic. But we need to take one step at the time.”

Hurtigruten’s ships carry hundreds of passengers, rather than the thousands of international cruise lines whose itineraries are typically set a year in advance and are currently subject to virus-related bans that may still be in place much or all of the summer. But given that Longyearbyen has essentially lost all tourism income since the pandemic hit (the only hotel open since quarantine restrictions were enacted reported a 99 percent drop in revenue in April compared to last year), the cruise/ferry company’s presence may at least give legitimate hope to local political and business leaders exploring ways to maximize the area’s appeal to domestic travellers since in-country travel may essentially be the only major activity in Norway this summer (and the highly-watched cruise around Svalbard on NRK’s “Minute-by-Minute” earlier this year may give the company’s sailings higher profile).

While other cruise lines are beginning to announce tentative resumption of sailing plans, with most in the polar regions eying next year, Lindblad Expeditions stated it does hope to resume expeditions including polar region sailings, sometime between July and September. However, those months are beyond the company’s typical Svalbard sailing schedule and it does not appear any voyages to the archipelago this year are currently being offered at the company’s website.

In other news/announcements today:

An evening cruise aboard the M/S Billefjord to Billefjorden is scheduled from 4:30-11 p.m. Wednesday.

• Bruktikken is open from 4-6 p.m.

Svalbard Delivery Service is open 4 p.m.-midnight.

• The next stage in Svalbar’s pool tour tournament starts at 6 p.m.