Longyearbyen is Norway’s – and the world’s – northernmost sustainable tourist destination, where the High Arctic wilderness begins in the town centre and virtually never ends. The small, colourful town is the administrative centre of Svalbard and home to around 2 100 people from 50 countries living in unity in tough climatic conditions.
For holiday destinations across the world, the environmental and social impact of tourism is huge. While the influx of tourists presents multiple opportunities for local value creation and employment, it also has negative impacts. These include increased pollution, damage to the landscape and disturbance to local communities.
“Sustainable Destination” certification is awarded to destinations in Norway that are working systematically to reduce the negative impact of tourism. In order to be certified, a destination must preserve local nature and culture, strengthen social values, demonstrate political commitment, have effective management, and be economically viable. Each of these five criteria has specific indicators that make it clear which actions are to be taken. Read more about sustainable tourism in Norway.
The “Master Plan – Destination Svalbard Towards 2025” created by the tourism industry and local politicians helps Longyearbyen to take appropriate, jointly funded steps to grow the destination.
A thematic plan for traffic and adventures outlines how Longyearbyen can be adapted to guests and residents to avoid wear and tear on nature and keep people safe.
There are hosting courses for service employees and a certification programme for guides. Guests should feel welcome and well taken care of, and receive adequate information about “dos and don’ts” in Svalbard nature. Employees should have a sense of pride, ownership and local identity.
Visitor surveys give the tourism industry valuable insight. Although the number of tourists is increasing, fresh results show that guests still perceive Svalbard as untouched and authentic, indicating that growth is being managed correctly.
Svalbard Cruise Network coordinates local activity related to summertime cruise ships and is encouraging ships to stay longer in Longyearbyen and spend a few extra days in the Isfjord to promote slower sailing and reduce fuel consumption.
Other initiatives include free loan of bikes and kick sleds, rubbish clean-ups, better waste management and promotion of locally produced goods. Visit Svalbard is environmentally certified, and other tourism companies are encouraged to follow suit. Companies that take sustainability seriously will be prioritised in various contexts.
Tourists are increasingly choosing tour operators that focus on sustainability. Tour operators can recommend any Norwegian destination certified as sustainable, secure in the knowledge that the destination is working continually to advance sustainability – economically, socially and environmentally – while providing an excellent experience.
The tourism industry in Longyearbyen is promoting the Northern Lights winter in Svalbard, as the Polar Night offers wonderful nature-based experiences. From November to January – currently low season – aircraft are half full and hotel capacity is under-utilised. Spreading guest traffic throughout the year will promote a healthier economy and more viable local community, with safe, year-round, full-time jobs.
Photos, from top: Reindeer – Sophie Cordon; Longyearbyen – Sophie Cordon; Ronny Brunvoll – JP Lorentz.
Dedicated to maintaining a viable local community that is less vulnerable to the growing tourism industry
Working to increase local commitment and cooperation for continued development of the destination
Keeping in mind the delicate balance between responsible use and protection