Last updated 6 May 2022

Cruise tourism in Svalbard has increased considerably in the last 10–15 years. It may have negative effects on the environment and cultural heritage, but, at the same time, cruise passengers get immense thrills from the scenery and wildlife, and increase their knowledge of Svalbard.

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 cruiseactivity. 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. 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. 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 is due to the corona situation.
(Cite these data: The Governor of Svalbard (2022). Number of people going ashore away from the settlements and Isfjorden. Environmental monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). URL:

The numbers indicate whether the traffic is steadily spreading to new areas. The number of landing sites rose steadily from 120 in 2001 to 165 in 2005. It then dropped, and from 2006 to 2009 it varied around 140. After 2009, the number of sites has increased rapidly, but has leveled out the two last years. In 2015, 179 sites were visited. After a few years of flattening, there was a marked increase in 2016 landing sites in 2017. The low numbers in 2020 and 2021 is due to the corona situation.
(Cite these data: The Governor of Svalbard (2022). Number of places where people go ashore away from the settlements and Isfjorden. Environmental monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). URL:

Details on these data

Last updated6 May 2022
Update intervalYearly
Next updateMay 2023
Commissioning organizationNorwegian Polar Institute
Governor of Svalbard
Executive organizationGovernor of Svalbard
Contact personsThomas Haavik


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.


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 so since White Paper no. 50 (1990–1991) Næringstiltak på Svalbard (business efforts in Svalbard) was issued. This was strengthen by the White paper no. 35 (2015-2016) Svalbard. Cruise tourism is the major part with a large number of operators and vessels. There are two main types – ocean-going 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 started as early as 1891. When the Association of Arctic Expedition Tour Operators (AECO) was established in 2003, the industry took a major step in the right direction by drawing up guidelines for  AECO members and meeting the requirements of the authorities.

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. Even so, the parameter is on the same level as in 2005. The increase was significant in 2015. The expedition cruise vessels have had a sall, but steady increase up to 2008, and contributed however to the most of the increase in 2015. Since then, the level remained high until 2020. In 2020 there was registred 1769 passangers going ashore. The low number is due to the coronasituation.

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. In 2017, there was a further strong increase to a total of 216 landing sites. In 2019, there was registred 224 different sites, and the total number of landing sites in Svalbard is now over 700. In 2020, there was registred 33 different sites. There was a small increase in 2021 to 104 different sites. The low numbers is due to the coronasituation.

The ban on heavy crude oil, limits on the number of passengers and restricted access to cultural heritage sites have changed the sailing routes of the large 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.

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 is increasing, since the ships that call at Longyearbyen have more capacity and some make several calls over the course of the summer. 

The number of expedition cruise vessels has 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, the number of ships has increased every year, from 39 ships in 2016, to 43 in 2017 and 59 in 2018. The number of passengers rose by around 10% per annum, to approx. 17,500 in 2017. Provisional passenger numbers for 2018 show a similar increase. 

Until 2007, the authorities placed no particular limitations on the development of this business, but the landing restrictions and increasing self-applied control through AECO will affect the future development. In 2007 a heavy oil ban and passanger limitations were introduced in Svalbard. A decline after the financial crisis in Europe in 2008–2009 has been reversed and there is now some degree of optimism.

The introduction of a general ban on heavy crude oil in 2015, nevertheless, gives some cause for concern regarding future visits from overseas cruise ships.


Putting ashore large numbers of passengers requires

  • good organisation
  • capable expedition leaders and guides
  • good practices
  • environmentally conscious passengers

Cruises have a potential to make passengers more interested in the environment and the changing climate, but may in some cases contribute to:

  • increased disturbing of vulnerable fauna
  • 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, helping to remove rubbish that has drifted ashore.

Between now and 2022, a number of ships, with varying passenger capacities, are being built for Arctic waters, and an expected increase in traffic is being monitored closely by the administration and the industry. AECO is working to attract more members, but some parties are choosing not to join the association, which can make it more difficult to obtain information from the authorities.

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 and Isfjorden.

Relations to other monitoring

Monitoring programme

  • None

International environmental agreements

  • None

Voluntary international cooperation

  • None

Related monitoring

  • None

Further reading



  1. Overrein, Ø. (ed.) 2010. MOSJ-rapport – Ferdsel. Norwegian Polar Institute Brief Report Series. 24 pp.
  2. Overrein, Ø. 2002. Virkninger av motorferdsel på fauna og vegetasjon. Kunnskapsstatus med relevans for Svalbard. Norwegian Polar Institute Report Series. 28 pp.
  3. 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 Svalbard. NINA Rapport. Lillehammer: Norsk institutt for naturforskning (NINA). 124 pp.
  4. Hagen, D., Eide, N.E., Fangel, K., Flyen, A.C., Vistad, O.I. 2012. Sårbarhetsvurdering og bruk av lokaliteter på
  5. Svalbard. NINA Rapport 785. Trondheim/Lillehammer/Oslo: Norsk institutt for naturforskning.
  6. 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.
  7. Reiselivsstatistikk for Svalbard 2013. 2014. Sysselmannen på Svalbard.