Svalbard opens its doors starting June 1 | Polarjournal

UPDATE 05/16/20 14.30 : A press release from the office of Premier Erna Solberg states that the current status of Norway’s borders will be maintained until 20 August. This means that the current entry ban for non-essential travellers will be maintained until the various dates (15 June for tourists from Nordic countries; 20 July for tourists from certain European countries). Adjustments and derogations will be adapted to the situation.

UPDATE 05/16/20 9.15 : According to a press conference by the Minister for Justice and Emergency Monica Maeland, further opening steps for Svalbard are planned as follows:
Business trips to Svalbard from Nordic countries may be made from June 1
Tourists from Nordic countries will be allowed to visit Svalbard without quarantine requirements again from June 15
– Tourists from SOME other European countries CAN return to Svalbard from July 20
– Multi-day cruises are NOT planned yet

Tourism is the largest source of income on Svalbard after the collapse of the coal mining industry. Thousands of tourists visit the archipelago mainly from March to October. Photo: Michael Wenger

Svalbard has been virtually cut off from the outside world since mid-March to prevent an outbreak of the lung disease COVID-19. The measures had been effective, but economically, they pushed many companies to the brink of ruin. When the first countries started easing their lockdowns again, voices in Longyearbyen were also crying for an opening. Oslo has long remained silent on the subject. But now the government has announced that tourists will be allowed to travel to Svalbard again from June 1. But one problem remains: it only applies to local guests, foreigners still have to wait.

At the press conference, which was announced by the government earlier this week, the good news for the business people in Longyearbyen were finally presented. From June 1, Norwegian tourists will be allowed to re-enter Svalbard, while the 10-day quarantine, which was previously mandatory for arrivals from the mainland, will be lifted from 6 pm tonight. The managing director of Visit Svalbard, Ronny Strømnes, is very pleased with the news. “There is no more exotic destination in Norway than Svalbard. We are pleased to welcome guests in the beautiful polar summer,” he said in a press release by Visit Svalbard.

Residents of Longyearbyen have been among themselves since mid-March, when all arriving visitors had to be quarantined for 10 days. The measures helped that Svalbard remained virus-free as one of the few places in the world. Photo: Michael Wenger

But the good news also has a catch: only domestic tourists are currently allowed in the archipelago, foreign guests must stay outside. Cruise tourism is also not yet allowed in Longyearbyen. Government sources said the long-term plans also might include a cap on visitors to Svalbard. “Of course, we would have liked to have had full houses again this summer,” continues Ronny Strømnes. “But that’s just not possible now. For us tourism companies, it is important that Svalbard remains a safe place to live and visit. That’s why we have to follow strict infection control rules until the COVID-19 situation is over.” Longyearbyen was free of lung disease infections due to the strict lockdown measures. And everyone wants it to stay that way. For this reason, a catalogue on infection prevention was drawn up in cooperation with all local stakeholders, which was one of the conditions for the reopening of tourism. Enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures, individual breakfast service in hotels, and contact lists for tracking are some of the points in the catalogue.

In addition to the various hotels, shops and restaurants, the prevention measures also affect guides, dog owners and other tourism-dependent businesses. Exactly how these are to be implemented individually remains to be seen. Photo: Michael Wenger

For hotels, shops and restaurants, the news is good despite the restrictions. But there are still many questions for guides and tour operators. For one thing, the important foreign guests are missing, but also the expedition ships. “The limited emergency care and the long evacuation timespan in Svalbard bring with it some limitations. Multi-day coastal cruises present some particular challenges,” it was said at the press conference. “This means that we will need some time before Svalbard can be opened for such an activity.” These words mean that the number of workers required is likely to be less than normal. Many shops and companies have already laid off their employees entirely or temporarily. For some of them, this now means a return to their homeland. For those coming from third countries (non-EU and non-EFTA), the government in Oslo is considering financial support for returning to their home country. These persons are not entitled to unemployment benefit under Norwegian law. The previous aid, which came from Oslo in the wake of the pandemic and the lockdown, ends on 20 June.

A smiling managing director of Visit Svalbard hopes that at least some of the outages can be compensated from June 1 on. Picture: Private image of Ronny Stromnes

Whatever the tourist season will be like, it will definitely be different than usual. Ronny Strømnes and many of the tourism companies hope that many local tourists will now visit the archipelago and thus the financial shortfall of the last few months can be alleviated somewhat. Accessibility is given, flights to Longyearbyen from Oslo and Tromso go six days a week. “Svalbard is a destination with endless wilderness areas where you feel very small as a human being in a beautiful landscape. Perhaps the tourists from Norway will recognize this even better this summer, as they will be the first and only tourists to visit Spitsbergen at this moment,” says Strømnes. But there is also the question of how the various suppliers, companies, shops and restaurants will deal with the reduced number of guests and how big the competition will be among themselves. It is clear that Svalbard was not hit by COVID-19, but the virus has changed this region nonetheless.

Source: Svalbardposten / Visit Svalbard

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