Norway has been toying with the idea of introducing a tourist tax to help smaller municipalities cope with mass tourism for some time. Now the government has confirmed that it will introduce such a program and that Norway’s picturesque Lofoten Islands will be the site for a pilot deployment.
If successful, other places that could afford a tourist tax would include the North Cape, Beitostølen and the UNESCO-listed fjord area, including Geiranger.
Norwegian Trade and Industry Minister Jan Christian Vestre made the announcement last week while visiting Svolvær. Speaking about the concept of a tourist tax, he said that Lofoten is “a region that has wanted it for a long time, worked for it, was creative and came up with good proposals.”
Why Lofoten wants a tourist tax
The mountains, beaches and charming fishing villages of Lofoten are a region loved by Norwegian tourists. But over the past two decades, the number of international visitors has exploded, thanks in part to striking images of hiking trails shared on social media.
While improvements have been made to hiking trails in recent years, Lofoten’s infrastructure struggles to meet the expectations of international visitors. In particular, parking and toilet facilities are scarce outside the handful of small towns.
This has led to increased reports of litter and feces on popular trails, while wild camping and increased visitor numbers are taking their toll in some mountain areas.
Although many people visit Lofoten, relatively few people live permanently on the islands. This results in a clear difference between the budgets of the local municipalities that make up Lofoten and the expenditures needed to improve the tourist infrastructure. It’s a similar problem in other areas that the government has identified as potential tourist tax locations, such as Geiranger and Beitostølen.
Line Samuelsen, Head of Tourism at Destination Lofoten, said she was “almost in tears” after the announcement.
“Most people see that a region with 24,500 inhabitants cannot pay the bill for several hundred thousand tourists. For several years now, we have been advocating that public services in the region be funded by visitors. We look forward to getting started on this,” she told NRK.
An extra tax on an already expensive place
However, what already makes potential visitors to Lofoten pause, are the high prices. Traveling to the islands requires expensive flights, car rental or a complicated combination of trains and ferries. Due to the high demand, accommodation prices rise during the summer season.
Could a tourist tax on top of the already expensive location deter more people from visiting the islands?
The Norwegian Hospitality Association (NHO Reiseliv) was one of the loudest critical voices of the proposals. They think it is already expensive enough for foreign visitors to go on holiday in Norway.
Local tour operators are not too enthusiastic about the idea either. Lofoten Explorer’s Gunnar Skjeseth has been working in the Lofoten travel industry for 25 years. He told TV2 that there are “divided opinions” in Lofoten. He himself thinks that money should come from the state budget for the necessary tourist facilities.
The exact mode of collection of the tax – or a ‘visitor fee’ as the government has termed it – has yet to be decided, although vehicle registration scanning technology has been proposed as an alternative to an accommodation charge.