Last updated 6 June 2023

Cruise tourism in Svalbard has increased considerably in the last 10–15 years. It may have negative effects on the environment and cultural heritage.

Cruise tourism
Photo: Stein Ø. Nilsen / Norwegian Polar Institute

What is being monitored?


The number of people going ashore and landing sites outside the settlements and Isfjorden

The numbers indicate the scale of the cruise activity. The number of people going ashore each year was quite stable from 1996 until 2000. The following season, number of tourists going ashore rose by about 72%. Following a period of steady rise, 2010 and 2011 saw a marked reduction in the number of people going ashore from cruise ships. The main reason was that private individuals had less money to spend. From 2011, the number of passengers has increased additional. This increase is mainly due to overseas cruise ships. The largest increase came in 2015, an increase of about 40% compared to the year before. The expedition cruise ships have had a steady increase over the years, and contributed most to the increase in 2015 and the following years, they also have most disembarkations and uses the most places outside the settlements. During the period 2015-2019 the overseas ships have become fewer but larger with more passengers on board. The low numbers in 2020 and 2021 was due to the corona situation. Numbers from 2022 shows the number of people going ashore is at approximately 90% of the level of the previous normal year (in 2019).
(Cite these data: The Governor of Svalbard (2023). Number of people going ashore away from the settlements and Isfjorden. Environmental monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). URL: https://mosj.no/en/indikator/influence/traffic/cruise-tourism/l)


The numbers indicate whether the cruise traffic is steadily spreading to new areas. If there are many vessels in an area, tour operators often search for new areas to disembark guests and go on trips.  The number of landing sites have increased steadily together with numbers of people going ashore. The low numbers in 2020 and 2021 was due to the corona situation.
(Cite these data: The Governor of Svalbard (2023). Number of places where people go ashore away from the settlements and Isfjorden. Environmental monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). URL: https://mosj.no/en/indikator/influence/traffic/cruise-tourism/ll)

Details on these data

Last updated6 June 2023
Update intervalYearly
Next updateMay 2024
Commissioning organizationNorwegian Polar Institute
Governor of Svalbard
Executive organizationGovernor of Svalbard
Contact personsThomas Haavik

Method

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.

Quality

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.

Other metadata

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 that since White Paper no. 50 (1990–1991) Næringstiltak på Svalbard (business efforts in Svalbard) was issued. This was strengthened by the White paper no. 32 (2015-2016) Svalbard. Cruise tourism is the biggest player with a large number of operators and vessels. There are two main types – overseas 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 to Svalbard started as early as 1891.

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 persons 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. This increase was mainly due to large oversea cruise ships. Even so, the parameter was then on the same level as in 2005. The increase was significant in 2015. The expedition cruise vessels have had a small, but steady increase up to 2008, and contributed however to most of the increase seen in 2015. The level remained high for many years. In 2019 it was registered 108 830 persons going ashore. This was an increase of 60% compared to 2018, when the number was 69 027. The large increase from 2018 to 2019 was due to a significant increase in numbers of cruise ships, longer sailing season and an effect of increased marketing of Svalbard as a travel destination. In 2020 and 2021, there was registered 1769 and 2367 passengers going ashore from cruise ships. These low number was due to the corona situation.

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 cruises. In 2017, there was a further strong increase to a total of 216 landing sites. In 2019, there was registered 224 different sites, and the total number of landing sites in Svalbard is now over 700. In 2020, there was registered 33 different sites. There was a small increase in 2021 to 104 different sites. The low numbers was due to the corona situation. While in 2022, the number was back to the level before the corona pandemic, with 233 different landings sites registered.

The ban on heavy crude oil, limits on the number of passengers and various traffic restrictions  have changed the sailing routes of the largest ships and protected vulnerable areas in Svalbard.

Causal factors

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 seen in the last 25 years.

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 increased in this period, since the ships that call at Longyearbyen had more capacity and some make several calls over the course of the summer then previous. 

The number of expedition cruise vessels has previously 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 to 2019, the number of ships has increased by 87% from 39 ships in 2016, to 73 in 2019. The number of passengers rose by around41% from 16 500 to 23 000 in the same period. In 2022, there was 81 expedition cruise ships that called at Longyearbyen, which is the highest number every recorded.

Until 2007 (when a heavy crude oil ban and passenger limitations were introduced in eastern Svalbard), the authorities placed no particular limitations on the development of this business. Traffic restrictions affected future developments.

Consequences

Putting ashore large numbers of passengers place different requirements on tour operators; it needs to be well organized, capable expedition leaders and guides. There are also requirements for good routines with regard to polar bear safety and environmental regulations. Cruise tourism may in some cases contribute to:

  • increased disturbance of vulnerable fauna
  • ice breaking and deterioration of important habitats for ice-dependent species
  • 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, where they help to remove litter that has drifted ashore.

A number of ships, with varying passenger capacities, have in later years been built for Arctic waters, and an expected increase in traffic is being monitored closely by management and the industry. Most of the expedition cruise operators on Svalbard are members of AECO, and are following their guidelines for traffic.   It is particularly important for the authorities to reach out with information also to unorganized operators.  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:

  1. The total number of people going ashore indicates the scale of the activity.
  2. 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 (Ny-Ålesund, Barentsburg and Pyramiden) and Isfjorden.

Relations to other monitoring

Monitoring programme

  • None

International environmental agreements

  • None

Voluntary international cooperation

  • None

Related monitoring

  • None

Further reading

Links

Publications

  1. Evenset, A., N Christensen, G. 2011. Environmental impacts of expedition cruise traffic around Svalbard. Akvaplan-niva rapport nr 4823 – 1. Tromsø: Akvaplan-niva AS. 170 pp.
  2. Hagen, D., Eide, N.E., Fangel, K., Flyen, A.C., & Vistad, O.I. (2012). Sårbarhetsvurdering og bruk av lokaliteter på SvalbardNINA Rapport 785. Trondheim/Lillehammer/Oslo: Norsk institutt for naturforskning. 110 pp. https://doi.org/11250/2642884.
  3. Overrein, Ø. (2002). Virkninger av motorferdsel på fauna og vegetasjon. Kunnskapsstatus med relevans for SvalbardRapportserie 115. Norsk Polarinstitutt. 28 pp. https://doi.org/11250/173284.
  4. Overrein, Ø. (ed.) (2010). MOSJ-rapport – FerdselKortrapport no. 015. Norsk Polarinstitutt. 24 pp. https://doi.org/11250/173001.
  5. Vistad, O.I., Eide, N.E., Hagen, D., Erikstad, L., & Landa, A.M. (2008). Miljøeffekter av ferdsel og turisme i Arktis – en litteratur– og forstudie med vekt på SvalbardNINA Rapport 316. 124 pp. https://doi.org/11250/2458892.