Tourism is one of three focus areas for business in Svalbard, and has been so since the last White Paper Number 50 (1990-91) Næringstiltak på Svalbard (Measures for Economic development of Svalbard) was presented. Cruise tourism is a major part with high numbers of operators, vessels, and ships; the cruise tourism industry in Svalbard has increased considerably over the last 10-15 years transporting a large number of passengers. There are two types of vessels:
overseas cruise ships; and expedition cruise ships. In addition, day cruise ships operate in Isfjorden. Cruises started as early as in 1891; industry statistics have been reported since 1996. By establishing the Association of Arctic Expedition Tour Operators (AECO) in 2003, the industry took a major step forward establishing guidelines for member activities to meet regulatory challenges.
The number of sites where passengers come ashore rose steadily from 1996 to 2000. More small expedition cruise vessels appeared and began to visit new areas at new landing sites, including eastern Svalbard. The number of tourist passengers going ashore, however, remained reasonably stable. From 2001 onwards, all operators have reported their activities. The number of tourists going ashore increased approximately 45 % during 2001-2008, and peaked in 2009; the numbers dropped during 2010-2011, most likely due to decreased private economies. The numbers of passengers increased to approximately 9,000 during 2011-2012 to a similar level as in 2005; this increase continued through 2013. Overseas cruise ships have been responsible for most of increased marine tourism since 2001; although expedition cruise vessels have also contributed significantly.
The number of landing sites increased steadily from 120 in 2001 to a peak of 165 in 2005, and stabilized at 145-150 sites during the period 2006-2009. Since then, the number has continued to increase; a total of 189 landing sites were active in 2013. This is due, in part, to a new type of product «Sail & Ski» where off-piste skiing — skiing fresh, unadulterated powder — is the main activity. Overseas cruise ships normally have passengers go ashore at one or two places in Svalbard (Magdalenefjorden and sometimes Møllerhamna), apart from the settlements. The ban on use of heavy crude oil, limits on the number of passengers, and restricted access to cultural heritage sites have altered the sailing routes of large ships and protected vulnerable areas in eastern Svalbard.
The number of overseas cruise ships visiting Svalbard has varied between 21 and 34, but increased in 2012 (Figure 4.4.27). The number of expedition cruise vessels has fluctuated between 15 and 35, with an increased number of smaller vessels. In 2013, there were fewer ships sailing, but an increased number of passengers. Until 2007, the authorities placed no particular limitations on development of this industry, but landing restrictions and increasing self-applied control through AECO will affect the future development. Declines seen after the 2008-2009 financial downturn in Europe have since been reversed, and there is now a degree of optimism. The introduction in 2015 of a general ban on use of heavy crude oil is cause for concern regarding visits from overseas cruise ships. It should be noted that several expedition cruise vessels join in the annual Clean-up Svalbard activities by helping to remove marine debris that has drifted ashore http://www.aeco.no/2014/07/clean-up-svalbard/.
Figure 4.4.1. Figure 4.4.27. Summary of overseas cruise ship activity in Svalbard, Norway during 1977-2014.