Svalbard with good conscience!

Svalbard with good conscience!

Experience Svalbard and Longyearbyen with a good conscience!

Longyearbyen is the world’s northernmost sustainable destination. The small town is the administrative centre of Svalbard and is home to around 2,400 people from around 50 different countries. A tiny, colourful metropolis on the top of the world inhabited by nature enthusiasts living in close unity in tough climatic conditions. In Longyearbyen, the High Arctic wilderness begins in the town centre and virtually never ends.

Maybe that’s why many are surprised to discover the outstanding dining and drinking options, varied shopping and rich cultural offering on offer in Longyearbyen all year round. Did you know that little Longyearbyen boasts two of Norway’s best restaurants?

However, it probably comes as no surprise that the inhabitants are fond of their town. With the beautiful Svalbard nature as their backyard, they are possibly more engaged than most in matters concerning environmental protection and sustainability. The same goes for the guests who visit us. Increasingly more tourists demand and choose destinations that demonstrate responsibility, and which offer genuine experiences of high quality.

The Svalbard nature is vulnerable and there is a delicate balance between protection and use. The effects of climate change are more visible in the Arctic than anywhere else, and the theme of sustainability is more relevant than ever. This coincides with a major transformation for the local community in the years ahead, with mining on the way out and an ever-expanding tourism industry. Sustainable solutions will play a pivotal role on this transformation.

The purpose of this article is to provide you with information about how to experience our archipelago with a good conscience. However, it’s important to start by telling you how we work as becoming a sustainable destination and what this slightly irreproachable theme really entails.

Fredric Fröberg

Sustainable destination label

In 2016, after several years of strategic work, Longyearbyen was awarded Innovation Norway’s “Sustainable Destination” label. The label lasted for 3 years, and we are now working towards beeing labelled again. Longyearbyen was one of the first destinations to be labelled as sustainable – and that’s something we are very proud of.

However, many ask the question: How can Longyearbyen be called a sustainable destination when its energy comes from coal mining, virtually all consumer goods are imported to the island and there are daily flights up and down to the mainland? Some also reflect on summer days when large cruise ships sail into the Isfjord and up to 4000 guests disembark in our small town. Is Longyearbyen really a sustainable destination?

Having this label does not mean that our destination IS sustainable. However, the label is an important tool for developing in the right direction and committing us to a continuous process of reducing footprints and greenhouse gas emissions. For the tourism industry in Longyearbyen, this involves always making active and serious choices locally. Tiny Longyearbyen cannot bear the brunt alone, nor save the world. But we can implement important local measures, make wise environmental choices and not least increase awareness of sustainability among the tourism industry, the local population and our guests. Non-renewable energy sources and emissions from aircraft and boats are the framework we must relate to. Despite many paradoxes and challenges, the destination is working to improve the condition within these scopes.

Linn Cecilie Blekkerud

Sustainability deals with more than air pollution and marine waste

Many associate “sustainable tourism” with measures to reduce emissions to air and the amount of plastic in the ocean. Yes, looking after the nature and the environment are an important part of the concept of sustainability, but a central part of the understanding is the interaction between the tourism industry, local authorities and the local community. A good place to stay is a good place to visit, and the tourism activities must make a positive contribution. Furthermore, sustainability has an economic perspective. The tourism must contribute to the local community to have something to live by. How we manage our cultural heritage is also part of a sustainable tourism industry. Moreover, all of this must have a long-term perspective.

The strategy document “Master Plan - Destination Svalbard Towards 2025”, which was created by industry and local politicians in 2015, has helped us to take mutual and correct steps in the development of a destination experiencing growth, and in 2021 this plan will be revised.

Stian Klo

Measures large and small towards steady improvement

Let’s start with one of the most comprehensive initiatives first. As part of the above-mentioned master plan mentioned above, a plan for urban development has been prepared (Thematic plan for traffic and adventures), which outlines how Longyearbyen can be adapted to benefit guests and residents alike. This may include footpaths, bridges, signs and presentation of cultural heritage sites. We want to control where people move. By doing this, we can avoid wear and tear on the nature, safeguard people’s safety and create valuable meeting places in Longyearbyen. Measures from this thematic plan are about to be implemented, which will make the local community less vulnerable to a tourism industry undergoing further growth.

The tourism industry in Longyearbyen has a focus on communicating the Northern Lights winter in Svalbard, which is currently our low season. From November to January, the aircraft are half full and the hotel capacity can be utilized better. The Polar Night offers wonderful nature-based experiences in Svalbard, but maybe this is under-communicated? By spreading the guest traffic throughout the entire year, the tourism industry contributes to a healthier economy and a more viable local community with safe year-round, full-time jobs.

When developing new tourist experiences, tour operators are encouraged to think of urban activities that may be operated year-round. It’s gratifying to see that these activities are also the most popular! In Longyearbyen, the is wilderness is right on our doorstep and there is also an abundance of cultural offerings.

Hosting courses are arranged for service employees, while there is a certification programme for guides. It is important for us that the guests feel welcome and well taken care of while they are here and that they receive good information including about the “Do's and don'ts” in the Svalbard nature. Moreover, employees in this industry should feel a sense of unity, ownership and local identity, and be confident and proud of what they are conveying to our guests.

Insights from regular visitor surveys provide the tourism industry with important information that will further improve the ongoing work. Although the number of tourists visiting is increasing, the results show us that the guests still perceive Svalbard as genuine, untouched and authentic. This is an indication that the growth is being managed correctly.

Jarle Røssland

Svalbard Cruise Network is a joint project in the tourism industry, which was formed to coordinate the local activity towards the cruise ships calling in the summertime. Good dialogue with the cruise lines is an essential part of this to ensure those visiting here relevant prior knowledge about Svalbard. Efforts are underway to get the cruise ships to spend longer in Longyearbyen, so the passengers can visit the town at different times. This contributes to better experiences for the guests and those living here, and to increased value creation in the local community. The cruise network is also working to encourage the cruise lines to spend a few extra days extra in the Isfjord. This means more experiences, slower sailing (slow-cruise) and less fuel consumption than previously, as many only made a short visit to Longyearbyen on their way to or from the northwest coast of Spitsbergen and Magdalene Fjords.

Other initiatives include free loan of town bikes, regular rubbish clean-up initiatives, anti-idling campaigns, better waste management and facilitation of locally produced goods. Visit Svalbard is leading the way as the destination company by being environmentally certified. Other tourism companies have been encouraged to follow suit. Companies that take sustainability seriously will be prioritised in various contexts.

Marte Iren Kristiansen

How can YOU experience Svalbard with a good conscience?

  • As a tourist, you can choose green tourism operators. Several tourism companies, including accommodation providers, have gained environmental certification in recent years. The same goes for the festival organisers. Did you know that the Taste Svalbard festival, PolarJazz and Dark Season Blues are all environmentally certified events?

  • Choose local activities close to town. There is an abundance of exciting options in and around Longyearbyen. This includes both culture- and nature-based experiences. In Longyearbyen, the Arctic wildlife is practically right on your doorstep.

  • Choose some non-motorised activities. You will find various options year-round, including skiing, kayaking, dog sledding and hiking. We promise that the peace and tranquillity in the Arctic will make a deep impression on you.

  • Choose local food. Are you aware how great Svalbard reindeer and grouse taste? What about fresh cod straight from the Isfjord? Exceptional! The local dishes from Svalbard also convey an exciting story about the hunting and trapping traditions in the archipelago. Ask you waiter what the local options are!

  • Buy locally produced products like knives, chocolate, beer, exclusive bottled water, woollens, wooden chopping boards, soaps, art or jewellery. It’s even more enjoyable to give locally made gifts when you get home.

  • Visit the tourist information centre and borrow a free town bike. The hosts will provide good advice about what to wear, help you to find the activity that best suits you and give you general advice about safety.  

  • Read the Svalbard Guidelines and other guidelines for the world’s northernmost community, which outline how tourists should behave here. By the way, did you know that picking flowers in Svalbard is not allowed even though they are so beautiful? This is to protect the vulnerable biodiversity.

  • Last, but not least, we encourage you to travel on fewer trips per year and instead stay longer in one place. Allow time to really embrace beautiful Svalbard, discover the stillness and the feeling of humility in the majestic nature. Seek out the locals who can provide insider tips and advice. Remember to go on organised activities when you visit Svalbard. Your safety will be taken care of by the local guides and we guarantee you will get more out of the experience.

Dagmara Wojtanowicz

Remember to always show respect for the local population, nature and wildlife

We wish you a warm welcome to Svalbard!

If you have any questions about Longyearbyen as a sustainable destination, please don’t hesitate to contact Director of Tourism Ronny Brunvoll or Project Manager Trine Krystad.

Written by Linn Cecilie Blekkerud

Visit Svalbard Eco-Lighthouse

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