The number of tourists coming to Norway continues to increase. In 2019, several natural attractions including the trail to the Pulpit Rock and hiking trails in Lofoten received record numbers of international visitors.
Locals are frustrated with congested roads and inconsiderate parking, while small municipalities complain that they can’t afford the necessary improvements to cope with the number of visitors, which more often than not far outnumber local residents. Calls have never been louder for a tourist tax.
A study by Innovation Norway of the highest profile Norwegian destinations found that discontent is high among a clear majority of the local population. These areas include the cities Bergen, Stavanger and Ålesund, along with more remote areas including Geiranger, Lofoten, Aurland and Svalbard. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed supported the introduction of a tourist tax.
According to the European Tourism Association, the concept of a visitor tax is not yet popular in northern Europe. Denmark, Sweden, Estonia and Latvia are among the countries not to have implemented the concept. The most visited countries in Europe—France, Spain and Italy—have all introduced charges.
Tourist tax under discussion by Norway’s MPs
For the second time in two years, the Norwegian Parliament is discussing the concept of a tourist tax. Last time the proposals were voted down, but given the recent changes in the coalition government, things could well be different this time around. Both the Labour party and Center party appear to now be in favor of allowing select municipalities to introduce some kind of local visitor fee.
One person who is hoping for an agreement is Jan Ove Tryggestad, the Mayor of Stranda municipality, which includes the tourist magnet Geiranger. “Today, there are a number of tourist destinations in Norway that are struggling. We cannot take any responsibility for what mass tourism imposes on us,” he told NRK.
Tryggestad also said he believes “tourist tax” is a loaded term and prefers to call the proposal “joint fundraising.” He also proposed alternatives to the typical accommodation-based way tourist taxes are collected at locations across Europe, presumably because so many visitors to Geiranger are day-trippers from cruise ships.
He suggested mobile payments, toll stations or a simple levy on goods and services in the specified zone could all be potential solutions.
How authorities elsewhere in Norway are tackling overtourism
Elsewhere in Norway, other measures are being introduced ahead of what is expected to be another record-breaking summer season.
The Foundation responsible for the facilities at Pulpit Rock are implementing limits on the number of tour buses allowed at the parking lot at any one time. While they are not limiting numbers taking the hike, they hope to better spread those numbers across the day.
City bosses in Bergen have extended the summer ban on passenger vehicles using Bryggen and Torget in the historic center to tourist buses. Such buses will also be banned from Øvregaten, an important access road to Bryggen. While many in the city are pleased with the news, owners of local tourism companies have spoken out against the proposals. There are several hotels in the restricted zone, which could cause problems for those traveling to and from cruise ships.
Finally, the Norwegian government is also considering imposing a size limitation on cruise ships around Svalbard. They are also considering extended the current ban on the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) to cover the entire archipelago.
I was born in the U.K. but moved to Norway in 2011 and haven’t looked back. I run a website and podcast for fellow expats, authored the Moon Norway travel guidebook, help Norwegian companies with their English, and spend my free time touring the country to discover more about the people and places of this unique corner of the world. I write for Forbes with an outsider’s inside perspective on Norway & Scandinavia.