In April, the latest statistics on cruise tourism in Spitsbergen were published by the Sysselmannen. They give detailed information about the development of this tourism sector until 2013. Against common belief, there is no indication for an increase of cruise tourism.
The number of big cruise ships visiting Spitsbergen as one of several parts their route remained almost unchanged (27 in 2013, 28 in 2012). As some of the ships make several trips per season, the number of trips is a little higher (33 trips in 2013, 36 in 2012). In contrast, a significant decline is indicated by the number of passengers: After an extraordinary increase in the record year 2012 (42,363 passengers) this figure went down to 36 257 in 2013. In the years before, there was a decreasing trend in the number of trips (from 50 in 2005 to 28 in 2011) as well as in the number of passengers (from 32,781 in 2007 to 24,187 in 2011).
The figures are presented in the Sysselmannen´s annual report on tourism. The statistics make a distinction between the big cruise ships, visiting Spitsbergen as one of several destinations on their route, and smaller expedition ships. In contrast to cruise ships, expedition ships travel primarily or exclusively in the waters around Spitsbergen. They usually start and end their trips in Longyearbyen. In the last year the sizes of these ships varied between 5 and 300 passengers. The category of expedition ships includes small yachts, mostly in local ownership, sailing ships like Noorderlicht and Antigua as well as larger ships like Plancius and Ortelius operated by Oceanwide Expeditions or Quest and Ocean Nova operated by Polar Quest. The number of expedition ships went down significantly in 2013 compared to 2012 from 35 to 24. Here too, the year 2012 was an all-time high. On the other hand the number of passengers was lower in 2012 than in 2013. With 9,277 it ranged within the trend of the previous years. 2013 however with 10,530 the number of passengers on expedition ships was for the first time higher than in the former record year 2008 with 10,040 passengers.
The figures do not indicate a clearly defined picture. Looking at both categories ‘big cruise ships’ and ‘smaller expedition ships’ together, the total number of passengers went significantly down from 51,640 to 46,787, compared to the record year 2012. The relatively strong decline on cruise ships is accompanied by a moderate increase on expedition ships. A clear overall trend cannot be identified. The often heard argument, that ship-based tourism in polar areas is growing rapidly and in an uncontrolled way, is however disproved by the figures, concerning Spitsbergen (this holds true also for Antarctica in a similar way, see antarctic.eu-news May 2014). Considering the decline in cruise tourism in Greenland since 2010 such arguments must be seen as a myth. Though, in the past they were used to reason for restrictive legislative amendments concerning tourism (see spitsbergen-svalbard.com-news April 2014).
Including the land based tourism, the total number of tourists visiting Spitsbergen has increased in 2013, as the Sysselmannen´s report also shows. The number of guest-nights in Longyearbyen climbed markedly from 84,643 (2012) to 107,086 (2013) and the number of flight passengers from 40,153 (2012) to 47,645 (2013). Land based tourism is basically concentrated in and around Longyearbyen, with a focus on on snowmobile trips followed by dog sledge excursions and other activities.
Cruise tourism in Spitsbergen involves a range of ships from yachts and sailing boats to large ocean liners.