Chock-a-block roads, oceans, hotels and campgrounds. Overwhelming numbers of free campers; a shortage of toilet facilities and parking; packed ferries and inadequate infrastructure.
The influx of tourists to Lofoten in Norway this summer has been enormous – and local and international media have been quick to highlight the problems that stem from this increase in demand.
“The number of tourists that visited Lofoten this summer corresponds to a 300 percent increase in the total population,” said Karianne Steen, chair of Lofoten’s Outdoor Recreation Council.
“It is not that we do not want to welcome tourists to Lofoten. Of course we do. But this is our home, and when one is expecting guests, one usually wants time to set the table before they arrive,” she said. “If we can do that, so that the locals avoid negative feedback from visitors, then receiving guests will be a much more pleasant experience.”
Visitor statistics confirm Steen’s claims, but they are not comprehensive. Visitors arriving by bicycle, camper or motorcycle, and those who arrange their own accommodation, via Airbnb, for example, are not included. This means that no one has a full record of just how many tourists visit Lofoten.
Huge Growth Over Last 10–15 Years
Nevertheless, the numbers tell the tale. A look at the statistics for visitor stays in commercial accommodation between 2000 and 2014 shows that Norway has experienced an increase of 27 percent. In the same period, Lofoten experienced a 50 percent increase, almost double the national figure.
The growing demand means that more and more tourists are making use of Lofoten’s biggest selling point – its spectacular natural assets. And with that comes problems, including environmental degradation.
Steen argues that better cooperation at regional and national level must begin now, and she has the support of Ingelin Noresjø, Nordland county councillor for environment and culture, among others.
“We need to put our heads together and work more closely with tourism [agencies], and the connection between tourism and outdoor recreation,” said Steen.
Just weeks ago, Lofoten’s working group for nature-based experiences met with Nordland County Council at Leknes. According to participants, there was consensus on the need for better cooperation.
Lofoten’s Outdoor Recreation Council was present, as well as Destination Lofoten, Lofoten Hiking Association, the Norwegian Agricultural Council and representatives from Vågan, Flakstad, Vestvågøy and Moskenes councils.
“Lofoten’s councils are enthusiastic, and they want to see something done. We understand, and we want to get started,” Mona Fagrås, county councillor for industry, told Lofoten-Tidende following the meeting. “Not just in the form of single project, but with implementation of concrete measures.”
Steen described the meeting as positive, and said she is pleased that the county council wants to contribute to the work.
The Importance of Acting as a Region
“It is about concrete, visible measures, and not just about making a 10-year plan, so we hope that these statements are backed by money,” she said.
Financing, she said, can be put towards anything from improving infrastructure related to recreation and tourism and waste management to the mapping and restoration of eroded hiking trails.
Solving problems at the municipal level isn’t enough. “Lofoten is a special region. Whether you are in Ramberg or Reine has little significance. Lofoten is a region and we must treat it as such,” she said.
“We receive the same signals from entities like the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, Norwegian Environmental Agency, Innovation Norway and others. We must express our needs and interests in one voice, like when we sent a common contribution to the government white paper on tourism. We have also compiled Lofotvettreglene [guidelines], and we are under way with work on a regional regulatory framework for outdoor recreation in Lofoten,” she said.
At the national level, the Norwegian Environmental Agency is already involved. They have released 1.4 million kroner ($170,000) for the Reinbringen project: the construction of a Sherpa trail, similar to trails in Bodø and Tromsø. Steen expects that this pilot project will lead to others.
Apps for Maps
The county governor has indicated a willingness to contribute to mapping initiatives, including the development of an app that enables locals and tourists to report problem areas.
“We would get a lot out of a common arena for dialogue,” said Steen, adding that the Rusken initiative in Oslo, a community action project that keeps public green spaces clean and creates jobs, has provided inspiration.
“It is important that the work has legitimacy in our local councils, and we need to build understanding about the importance of legitimacy. Issues must also be raised to the regional level, parallel to the work being carried out in local councils. There is some skepticism to planning and long-term approaches, but if we want to be heard, or get anywhere, we will need to work together,” she said.
Steen said local partners, including hotels and industrial organizations, are enthusiastic and want to be catalysts in these projects.
Local expertise in a Regional Arena
But to achieve these goals, a regional arena needs to be created, said Steen. “I think it is natural that we find a common arena between the interests of those who work with outdoor recreation and those who work with tourism,” she said. “We have loads of expertise available, both within destination companies, the outdoor recreation council, working groups and players like ‘Lofoten matpark’.”
Within the next month, Lofoten representatives will enter into preliminary talks with Nordland County Council.