Norway has been on a roll since the Academy-Award-winning film "Frozen" premiered in 2013 and established the country as a family destination. Since then, Innovation Norway has partnered with Disney, Norwegian Air and other travel entities to keep the ball rolling.
With the hoopla over "Frozen," the number of room nights attributed to U.S. visitors has been rising each year: 2014 saw a 36% increase; 2015, an additional 7%; and 2016, a 17% increase, to nearly 500,000.
Norway is perceived as a safe destination, no small matter in volatile times, but that is not its main selling point: the real attraction here is nature – the fjords are unique; new cruises traverse the coastal and inland waterways; the culture is accessible; rail travel is fast, efficient and scenic; and now Norway is a new star on the culinary tourism map with Michelin-starred restaurants in Oslo and Bergen.
Airlift has played a pivotal role as well. The new Oslo Airport debuted its green facility this spring with a capacity to welcome 32 million passengers a year.
Norwegian Air operates flights from Rhode Island’s T.F. Green Memorial State Airport in Providence and Stewart International Airport in Orange County, New York to Bergen, while flights from New York, Boston, Oakland, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Seattle fly into Oslo.
SAS added flights from Oslo and Copenhagen to Miami last year, and operates daily flights to Oslo from Newark Liberty Airport. SAS operates service to seven U.S. cities including Newark, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Miami.
On the ground, the Eurail Norway Pass (as well as Scandinavia multi-country options) is available through ACP Rail International, and Eurail’s U.S. partner Rail Europe, both of which post off-season deals frequently.
Several regional Scandinavian programs include Norway; Collette Tours and Tauck Tours offer fjord and coastal voyages. The Travel Corporation’s Insight Vacations’ 13-day Country Roads of Southern Scandinavia has two remaining departures for 2017 and three for 2018 – the 13-day Country Roads of Scandinavia (Norway and Denmark), the 21-day Grand Tour of Scandinavia and the 29-day Scandinavian Heritage tour.
For Betina Kohler, Borton Overseas Travel’s Scandinavian director, Iceland and Norway are the top destinations. “The visuals, from "Frozen" to the Northern Lights, are inspiring people to see it for themselves,” she said.
Norway’s success has magnified the need for accommodations and availability at some of its top attractions as she sometimes finds it necessary to shift clients to second and third choice properties.
Says Kohler, “We have noticed a lack of availability for accommodations and other trip elements such as Norway in a Nutshell fjord trips, and Hurtigruten’s coastal cruises.” And new attractions are coming online.
Some of that may be remedied in Bergen, Norway’s second largest city and the gateway to the fjords, where a few boutique properties recently debuted: the Bergen Harbour Hotel, Opus XVI, design hotel Zander K and the Hotel Bergen Børs.
For the first time this summer visitors can combine the Sognefjord in a nutshell tour with the UNESCO Fjord Bus tour. Active travelers can also join the Sognefjord tour with a glacier hiking trip to Nigardsbreen starting from either Bergen or Oslo as a one-way tour or as a roundtrip.
Norway in a Nutshell and The Flåm Railway have both been enhanced by the entrance of the Loen Skylift that recently opened in the heart of Fjord Norway. The first tier of The Viking Village opened this spring in Gudvangen (Field of gods) in the UNESCO World Heritage Fjord, Naeroyfjord.
While other destinations gear up for incentives, business travel and conferences from November through March, by September, Norway is getting its Northern Lights campaign in full swing.
Harald Hansen, information/public information manager at Visit Norway-Innovation Norway in New York, noted that business travelers are arranging more extended stays that morph into family vacations feeding into the leisure market.
The newest trend travel agents may want to consider is winter cruises, he suggested. Winter has become one of the most desirable times to visit Europe, and in particular, to see the Northern Lights.
Thousands arrive to witness this phenomenon, which has of late appeared on dozens of Where to Go Next/What You Cannot Live Without Seeing lists. During the past three to four years, this market has soared by nearly 100%, says Hansen.
From November to March, 2012-2013, InnovationNorway counted 67,000 bed nights and by last year, projecting into this year, the expectations are for 124,000 bed nights.
Not all the action takes place on land, however. Last year, Norway received some 84,000 cruise passengers, double the number in 2015. The U.S. is Norway’s third- largest cruise market and it is growing.
Notably, Viking Ocean Cruises will launch a series of winter voyages aboard the Viking Sky into the Arctic to catch the Northern Lights. The 13-day In Search of Northern Lights itinerary will kick off in January, 2019 and operate through March.
Viking’s voyages will travel one way between Tilbury, England (near London) and Bergen, Norway and will feature five additional calls in Norway including Tromso, also known as the gateway to the Arctic, and an overnight in Alta, reportedly one of the best places from which to view the Northern Lights.
Agents interested in learning more may want to register online for the Scandinavian Specialist program sponsored by Denmark, Norway and Sweden tourism entities.