Cruise tourism in Svalbard has increased considerably in the last 10–15 years. It may have negative effects on the environment and cultural heritage, but, at the same time, cruise passengers get immense thrills from the scenery and wildlife, and increase their knowledge of Svalbard.
What is being monitored?
Cite these dataThe Governor of Svalbard (2021). Number of people going ashore away from the settlements and Isfjorden. Environmental monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). URL: http://www.mosj.no/en/influence/traffic/cruise-tourism.html
|People ashore||The Governor of Svalbard||29340||25843||29145||24338||29483||50966||51941||48834||50247||63549||61434||62433||64303||65619||59581||53431||62641||65523||60182||84104||81921||67832||69027||108830|
Cite these dataThe Governor of Svalbard (2021). Number of places where people go ashore away from the settlements and Isfjorden. Environmental monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). URL: http://www.mosj.no/en/influence/traffic/cruise-tourism.html
|Landing sites||The Governor of Svalbard||53||72||86||91||94||122||120||137||141||167||138||138||136||140||146||153||176||189||169||179||208||216||220||224|
For each cruise, the cruise operators report the number of crew and passengers going ashore and the sites they landed at. Places situated very close to each other in the same area are normally handled as one site by the Governor's Office, because the operators often give only rough map references.
The method is relatively reliable, given correct reports from the operators. The statistics up to 2000, however, do not include the Svalbard Polar Travel expedition cruises.
Data are processed by the Governor of Svalbard before being delivered to MOSJ. In 2013, an error in the formula for the dataset was detected, and the numbers of passengers going ashore from 1996 and onwards were corrected.
Data are stored by the Governor of Svalbard.
Reference level and action level
There are no reference or action levels.
Status and trend
Tourism is one of three focus areas for business in Svalbard and has been so since White Paper no. 50 (1990–1991) Næringstiltak på Svalbard (business efforts in Svalbard) was issued. This was strengthen by the White paper no. 35 (2015-2016) Svalbard. Cruise tourism is the major part with a large number of operators and vessels. There are two main types – ocean-going cruise ships and expedition cruise ships. In addition, several small vessels offer day trips in Isfjorden.
Cruise ships transport a large number of passengers in Svalbard waters. Cruises started as early as 1891. When the Association of Arctic Expedition Tour Operators (AECO) was established in 2003, the industry took a major step in the right direction by drawing up guidelines for AECO members and meeting the requirements of the authorities.
Despite the industry's long history in Svalbard, statistics only go back to 1996. Prior to that, there was little cruise traffic and few operators. Most vessels sailed along the west coast or around Spitsbergen. The number of places where passengers were put ashore rose steadily from 1996 to 2000. More small expedition cruise vessels appeared on the scene and they began visiting new areas and landing at new places, including eastern Svalbard. However, the number of people put ashore remained reasonably stable.
Statistics up to 2000 are deficient, but from 2001 onwards, all the operators have reported their activities. The number of tourists going ashore rose by about 45% from 2001 to 2008, with a peak in 2009. Most likely because of a decrease in private economy, the numbers dropped in 2010 and 2011, but they rose by approximately 9000 passengers from 2011 to 2012. Even so, the parameter is on the same level as in 2005. The increase was significant in 2015. The expedition cruise vessels have had a sall, but steady increase up to 2008, and contributed however to the most of the increase in 2015. Since then, the level has remained high.
The number of landing sites rose steadily from 120 in 2001 to a provisional peak of 165 in 2005. New places were tested, but not all proved suitable. A decline towards a stabilization at 140 places followed in the period 2006–2009. Since then, the number of landing sites has increased, and 179 sites were used in 2015. This is partly explained by a new type of product "Sail & Ski" where off-piste skiing is the main activity. These ships put people ashore at quite different sites than normal. In 2017, there was a further strong increase to a total of 216 landing sites. In 2019, there was registred 224 different sites, and the total number of landing sites in Svalbard is now over 700.
Overseas cruise ships normally only put passengers ashore at one or two places in Svalbard (Magdalenefjorden and sometimes Møllerhamna), apart from the settlements. The ban on heavy crude oil, limits on the number of passengers and restricted access to cultural heritage sites have changed the sailing routes of the large ships and protected vulnerable areas in eastern Svalbard.
Determined, long-term marketing of the cruises, growing interest for the Arctic with its virgin wilderness, magnificent scenery, exotic animal life and exciting cultural heritage relics, improved flight schedules, more tour operators and vessels, and more overnight accommodation in Longyearbyen have all contributed to the increase.
The number of overseas cruise ships visiting Svalbard has varied between 21 and 34 until 2015. The number of over seas ships had a steep decrease from 23 in 2014 to 14 in 2015, while the number of calls increased. In recent years, there have been 17 overseas ships, while, in 2018, 15 ships made a total of 27 port calls carrying around 45,900 passengers. The number of passengers is increasing, since the ships that call at Longyearbyen have more capacity and some make several calls over the course of the summer.
The number of expedition cruise vessels has varied between 15 and 35, with a trend towards more but smaller vessels. In 2013, there was a decrease in the number of ships from 35 to 24, but the number of passengers still increased. After an increase in 2014, the same happened in 2015 as the number of ships decreased by five. From 2016, the number of ships has increased every year, from 39 ships in 2016, to 43 in 2017 and 59 in 2018. The number of passengers rose by around 10% per annum, to approx. 17,500 in 2017. Provisional passenger numbers for 2018 show a similar increase.
Until 2007, the authorities placed no particular limitations on the development of this business, but the landing restrictions and increasing self-applied control through AECO will affect the future development. In 2007 a heavy oil ban and passanger limitations were introduced in Svalbard. A decline after the financial crisis in Europe in 2008–2009 has been reversed and there is now some degree of optimism.
The introduction of a general ban on heavy crude oil in 2015, nevertheless, gives some cause for concern regarding future visits from overseas cruise ships.
Putting ashore large numbers of passengers requires
- good organisation
- capable expedition leaders and guides
- good practices
- environmentally conscious passengers
Cruises have a potential to make passengers more interested in the environment and the changing climate, but may in some cases contribute to:
- increased disturbing of vulnerable fauna
- spreading of alien species of plants
- damage and destruction of cultural heritage relics
- pollution (especially if a ship runs aground or is wrecked)
It should be noted that several expedition cruise vessels join the annual Clean-up Svalbard action, helping to remove rubbish that has drifted ashore.
Between now and 2022, a number of ships, with varying passenger capacities, are being built for Arctic waters, and an expected increase in traffic is being monitored closely by the administration and the industry. AECO is working to attract more members, but some parties are choosing not to join the association, which can make it more difficult to obtain information from the authorities.
Guides with local and relevant expertise are becoming more important, since there are many new tour operators without previous activity in the archipelago.
About the monitoring
It is important to monitor the development of the cruise tourism, to detect potential threats or damage to the natural or cultural heritage in Svalbard. Hence, MOSJ has selected two time series to present this:
- The total number of people going ashore indicates the scale of the activity.
- The number of places where people go ashore from cruise ships indicates whether the traffic is steadily spreading to new areas.
An increase in the number of people going ashore or in the number of places where people go ashore will show the management authorities whether there is a need for more detailed information or urgent action.
Places and areas
The whole of Svalbard beyond the settlements and Isfjorden.
Relations to other monitoring
- Monitoring programme
- International environmental agreements
- Voluntary international cooperation
- Related monitoring