The challenge of local cruise control

“We said yes to cruises because we saw it as a chance to create something meaningful for the community.”  

Case Area

The Lofoten Islands are situated above the Arctic Circle in the Norwegian Sea. They span a 240 km long archipelago situated in the county of Nordland, and are home to approximately 24,000 inhabitants. Both nature and culture attract national and international visitors who can enjoy the sandy beaches, deep fjords, and dramatic mountains. Lofoten is an ideal destination for hiking, fishing, bird watching, kayaking, climbing, cycling, skiing, and sailing. The region is know for its fishing industry, and its history is also represented through the cultural heritage of the Vikings, and the colorful and charming fishing villages have become tourist attractions themselves. 

Cruise situation

Lofoten is a top three cruise destination in Norther Norway, with the summer period of mid-June to the end of August as a clear peak season. During this time, cruise tourists and land-based tourists combined often outnumber the local population, although this number fluctuates between peak cruise days and days on which no cruises arrive. This crowdedness puts  stress on both the natural environment and the citizens of the Lofoten area. This has led to heavy debate on the maximum carrying capacity of tourists that the Lofoten Islands can handle, and it has become important to map this capacity. In general, it seems like many aspects of the cruise experience are often taken for granted.[JO1] More discussions should be organized, in order to create much more feasible and favorable conditions for Lofoten. 

Specific Case Issues

Infrastructure in Lofoten is designed to carry the capacity of an average busy day but is not optimized for large amounts of land-based and cruise tourists during peak days. The Leknes harbor, for example, does not have public transportation from the harbor to the town, a route that perhaps only cruise guests demand. This may require an implementation of alternative practices within the limits of the available infrastructure—limits that are unknown or not considered by the cruise operator. However, even though the cruise industry has challenged infrastructural facilities, they have a positive influence on infrastructural development in Lofoten towns and settlements as well. 

Pollution and overcrowding are also major concerns for the local population. This does not only concern the clean air and the depletion of natural resources, it also has a visual component; cruise ships take up plenty of space in the harbor. They are, as some have put it, ‘like a building right in front of the living room’. In order to preserve the natural environment and to ensure the wellbeing of the local population, cruises must be governed and managed across organizational boundaries. This means, for example, that cruises are asked to be collaboratively managed between key actors, a practice that can be improved in Lofoten. This cooperation is often challenged by a lack of common understanding of the nature of the industry and lack of prioritizing cruise matters.  

Further, managing diverse cruise tourists can be a very stressful situation, because of their short stays and quick turnover, high safety standards and demanding guests and cruise operators. This influences the wellbeing of employees in the tourism sector. In combination with the high seasonality, the employee turnover is high, which often results in leakage of knowledge and competences between the seasons. 

Local Solutions

In order to reduce the pressure on local infrastructure and facilities, it is important to understand the ways in which cruise tourists are distributed across the Lofoten. When it becomes clearer how they move across the land, use services and facilities and join in a variety of activities, measures can be taken to better coordinate these tourists. Distribution of tourist flows, especially during peak periods, can then be improved. 

Furthermore, the strategy for Lofoten should be locally adapted, with a clearly defined level and threshold of carrying capacity. This can be supported through practical solutions: a tourist tax, a local cruise coordinator that oversees all the cruising activities, and a joint strategy for negotiation with cruise and tour operators. Additionally, when it comes to environmental pollution, the harbor infrastructure can be developed in which environmentally friendly solutions are adopted.

Conclusion and Take-Away

The “one-size-fits-all” approach, which refers to a standardized and uniform method of organizing and structuring cruise operations that has been adopted within the industry, causes a high level of inflexibility. This emphasizes the importance of a locally adapted strategy, with room for flexibility and room for adjustments. Most importantly, all of this should be achieved through transparent communication with local communities. A better understanding of the tourist distribution couples with an improved coordination of activities may lower the pressure on infrastructure and local environment, while potentially enhancing local well-being. We therefore encourage the destination of Lofoten to facilitate and encourage local engagement by cruise operators, which can enhance their accountability in actively participating in the co-development of a sustainable cruise destination.