CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR SAT.-SUN.: Only hotel open in Longyearbyen sees 99% drop in April stays, Green Dog’s idle staff finishes month-long race and more


This story will be updated through the weekend (most recent: 4 p.m. Sunday). Photo at end of the final stage of the Green Dog Cup race by Green Dog Svalbard.

The only hotel still open in a tourist-free Longyearbyen and a dogsledding company both essentially suffered a total loss of business in April. It seems entirely objective to report the dogsledding employees (even if mostly laid off) had more fun.

Nine “teams” at Green Dog Svalbard spent the month keeping the dogs and themselves active by participating in a series of one-day stages culminating in a Grand Finale this weekend for the “first-ever” Green Dog Cup. Daniel Stilling Germer won the event with 111 cumulative points, nine ahead of the next-place finisher.

Organized by Marcel Starinsky, photo albums and race updates were posted on the company’s Facebook page for neighbors and would-be mushers from afar to follow in anticipation of adventuring that will again be normal someday.

“Brilliant! Hope it becomes an annual event!” wrote Jon Russill, a UK resident, in a comment when the photos from the finale were posted.

Obviously that might not be a widely-shared sentiment in the sense the race was possible because the mostly unemployed mushers had no tours to guide during the peak of spring season, which like the rest of Longyearbyen’s tourism industry is wreaking enormous short- and long-term hardships on both individuals and companies.

Another indicator of just how hard also was revealed this weekend as Svalbard Hotell, the only lodging to remain open since the quarantine restrictions went into effect in mid-March, suffered a 99 percent drop in business in April, Nettavisen reported. Stein-Ove Johannessen, the hotel’s manager, told the newspaper about five million kroner in room, food and alcohol revenue is typical for the month, but there was only about 50,000 kroner this year from a few local drop-ins – and he fears much worse is to come.

“We make our profits from March to August, so these are important months that make us have a good economy throughout the year,” he said, noting the hotel is operating with only three employees after laying off 53 others.

Local tourism leaders have already stated the summer cruise season is expected to be a total loss in terms of large ships and, if a nationwide quarantine now in effect until at least May 18 is lifted during the summer. Furthermore, Verdens Gang reported this week Norway’s Ministry of Justice is able and ready to extend a ban on non-resident foreigners from entering the country, currently in effect until May 15, until at least Aug. 15 although a final decision has not been made. As a result, the best realistic hope is some level of domestic tourism.

In other local coronavirus-related news/announcements:

Tio Moncho’s Mexican food truck will be open from 3-8 p.m. (“at least”) today.

Svalbard Delivery Service is available until midnight.

A virtual book launching of “Verda Mi Smeltar” by Line Nagell Ylvisåker, a longtime local journalist narrating her experiences covering the deadly 2015 avalanche and other events impacted by climate change, is scheduled at 7 p.m. Wednesday from Longyearbyen Library.