A SICK TALE OF SVALBARD TOURISM: 75% cancellation of tours, 58% reduction in guest nights in 2020 due to COVID-19 detailed in this passage from gov’t report about tourism rules


Photo by L.P. Lorentz / Visit Svalbard

It’s a dramatic, concise and clear page that stands out strikingly in an 82-page report mostly filled with bureaucratic jumble about rewriting Svalbard’s tourism laws, summarizing officially the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local tourism in 2020.

The big numbers: a 75 percent cancellation in tours and a 58 percent decrease in guest nights at accommodations. As for the cruise ships that have typically brought tens of thousands of visitors annually? A total of 10 ships carrying an average of 43 passengers managed to visit last year.

The figures, while based in part on the same data as a recent Statistics Norway report about Svalbard’s economy in 2020, are more dismal because they focus exclusively on tourism.

The following is the government’s narration of the year, translated into English and edited slightly for clarity:

“In 2020, the growth of commercial tourism in Longyearbyen stopped abruptly after growing every year since 2012. The main season for most companies in Svalbard, when there’s daylight during winter, was just about to start in the country that closed down on March 12 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was opened for land-based activity as well as day trips by boat from June 1, 2020, subject to requirements that everyone had to prepare and get an infection control plan approved for their own business. Providers of accommodation, dining and experiences were all nevertheless subject to restrictions on occupancy.

In 2020, there was a decrease in guest nights at Longyearbyen’s accommodation establishments of 58 percent and compared with the 2019 figures from Visit Svalbard. This decline again affected the occupancy rate, which in 2019 was 64 percent and in 2020 ended up at 26 percent. The number of arriving guests decreased from 177,136 in 2019 to 25,546 in 2020.

The Governor received 151 notifications of tour arrangements from tour operators in Svalbard for the calendar year 2020. A total of 114 of these were canceled. Also in 2020, 34 tour operators, about 20 percent of the tour operators, were locally based with an office address in Longyearbyen.

In the summer of 2020, it was reopened for coastal cruises in Svalbard for ships with less than 500 passengers on certain conditions, and provided that the tour operators prepared a guide that would ensure infection control-safe operation. Only 14 commercial vessels managed to meet the requirements of the guide, of which only 10 managed to visit Svalbard during the season. These ships had an average of 43 passengers on board. With regard to overseas cruises, only three of the registered ships visited Svalbard before all types of cruises with more than 30 people on board in the autumn of 2020 were banned through the COVID-19 regulations.

Within the segment for research and education, 30 reports were registered in 2020, of which only three were completely or partially canceled. Within the segment for individual travellers, a total of 52 messages were registered, of which 28 were completely or partially canceled.”