Shelter seekers, sellers scrambling during final days before eclipse


Mȯnica Castellvi was desperate enough to use a dating website hoping to hook up with someone in Svalbard, even though her boyfriend is with her.

Hanne Kvamsø, on the other hand, was so eager to rent her apartment she considered greeting passengers arriving at the airport with a vacancy sign – until some folks even more desperate agreed to pay perhaps the most insane per-night price of many during Eclipse Week.

Mass confusion and disparity about places to stay and their prices continues to rage during the days immediately before Friday’s eclipse, with the disparity between what people are paying for a night’s sleep reaching a ratio of about 40-1. On the low end were lucky folks who found single rooms in Longyearbyen or overlooked hotel rooms in Barentsburg for 1,000 kroner or a bit more per night. At the other end were some Belgiuns who paid about 45,000 kroner to stay one night in an apartment.

Local government officials attracted global headlines by warning people to not make last-minute plans to come to Svalbard because there’s no lodging to shelter visitors from the polar bears and Arctic weather. But somehow finding a last-minute flight seems a far less likely prospect than a last-minute room as numerous hotel and guesthouse rooms are becoming available, and owners of private residents are lowering their once-astronomical prices.

Castellvi, arriving in Longyearbyen from Barcelona on Tuesday, said she signed up at the dating sire after searching for months for a place and finding prices unaffordable.

“I just had a profile and I was looking for someone who would say hello,” she said.
She said she hooked up with a local through other means to view what will be her third total solar eclipse.

“This is like getting a tattoo,” she said. “Once you get one you want to get more.”

Kvamsø said she and her husband to a late start in offering their large apartment for rent, and after not getting any takers considered searching for visitors daring to arrive without a place to stay. But she said a seven-person Belgian television crew assigned to cover the eclipse on short notice agreed to pay for two nights at a cost of more than 20,000 kroner a night – although they’ll only be sleeping in the apartment for one.

Visitors arriving Tuesday afternoon at Svalbard Airport were offered a four-page document listing vacancies at places ranging from Svalbard Hotel to Icefjord Radio. But while numerous people picked up the documents, none of those interviewed said they needed a place.

Some of the openings were from private homeowners who, having failed to rent their residences through websites such as after advertising them for weeks or months, were willing to reduce prices and make other concessions – allowing short stays instead of multiday ones, for instance, and renting rooms instead of an entire home. But some openings were also due to people who to cancel at the last minute due to unexpected circumstances.

Gabi Naumann, a Berlin resident, stated in an e-mail interview she decided years ago she wanted to see the eclipse, but the rates at Airbnb – ranging from roughly 2,500 to 25,000 kroner per night – were too high. She sent out numerous messages to local organizations and personal websites, and got a “quite cheap” offer on a private room about a month ago. Even better offers came in during the next couple of weeks, including “a room in student housing for almost nothing.”

But ultimately her efforts and the generosity of others was for naught.

“Some days ago I had an accident with my knee and I am not able to travel not at all,” she wrote. But after all (that) remains new friends and contacts on Svalbard. I hope I can come another time.”