Norwegian tourism is growing rapidly. Now researchers know more about the scope and how Norwegian nature is used to create commercial tourism activities.

Text: Liv Røhnebæk Bjergene, NMBU
English translation: Inga Sæther, Centre for Rural Research
Centre for Rural Research is a partner in the new project BIOTOUR, granted by the program BIONÆR, Research Council of Norway. The project is analysing key conditions for future development of nature-based tourism in Norway as the basis for industrial development, robust communities and sustainable resource use. The project is coordinated by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), and will run for four years (2016-2020).
According to Innovation Norway, the number of so-called “active holidays” increased by 195 percent from 2011 to 2013. Norwegian nature provides ample opportunity for tourism enterprises to offer commercial activities outdoors. However, we lack knowledge about the nature-based tourism enterprises.
– Many of these companies are small and often fall outside the mainstream tourism statistics. A key objective of the BIOTOUR project is therefore to get an updated overview of the number and status of nature-based tourism enterprises in Norway. Our current knowledge is from a similar survey we did in 2013, says Stian Stensland. He is a researcher at the NMBU, and one of 22 researchers in the interdisciplinary research project.
A large, nationwide survey will be conducted in the spring of 2017 covering both small and large enterprises, and some of the aspects we want to ask about are their business models and use of networks, and what kind of activities they offer.
– We would also like to gain knowledge about the companies’ awareness of sustainability and use of nature when creating activities for tourists, said Stensland.
Expecting an increase in nature-based tourism
In 2013, the number of nature-based tourism enterprises was an estimated 2-3000. Stensland thinks the 2017 figures will be slightly higher.
– Considering the growth in tourism in general, we assume that several nature-based tourism enterprises have been launched in the last couple of years. We would like to know more about the goals of these enterprises. Does it primarily revolve around certain lifestyles, or do people aim to create a livelihood based on tourism activities in nature? Further, possible changes over time for these enterprises will be interesting to analyse.
Positive industry partners
The Norwegian Hospitality Association, the Norwegian Farmers’ Union, the Norwegian Trekking Association, Innovation Norway and HANEN, the trade organization for rural tourism and farm produce, are partners in the project. They look forward to gain more knowledge about the nature-based tourism enterprises:
– The survey is supremely important for managing development. Many nature-based tourism businesses are, due to small scale or perhaps lack of professionalism, left out of the national statistics. Therefore, it is important to get a better overview of this part of the industry, says senior adviser in nature-based tourism in Innovation Norway, Haaken Christensen.
– We already have some enterprises of this kind as members, and we see a potential to develop the industry, says Bernt Bucher-Johannessen, CEO of HANEN.
– To get an overview of the nature-based tourism in Norway is an important job. For us it is important that the survey contributes to concrete actions to further develop the nature-based tourism enterprises, says Dagny Øren, who is the manager of adventures, culture, sports events and destination companies in the Norwegian Hospitality Association.
Christensen emphasizes the importance of paying attention to sustainable solutions when further developing tourism.
– The rise in the number of tourists to Norway is a wonderful opportunity, but we must be sure to steer the development in the right direction, says Christensen.
How does one define nature-based tourism businesses?
– All tourism businesses that operate in nature are not necessarily nature-based tourism businesses, says Bernt Bucher-Johannessen.
– We suspect that the number of registered nature-based enterprises in the 2013 survey is too high. It is therefore important to define clearly what is regarded as nature-based, and what counts as a tourism enterprise.
The BIOTOUR project defines nature-based tourism enterprises as commercial entities that offers activities in nature for travellers for a charge.
Detective work by phone and web search
Master students in nature-based tourism at the NMBU, Ellen Robber Staveland and Gry Thyrrestrup, have contacted destination companies, tourist offices, municipalities and industrial companies to get an overview of the stakeholders.
– Mostly we have been very well received when asking for information. Many small businesses are not included in the destination companies’ lists. We are trying to reach these companies through the web, says Thyrrestrup.
Not all of them are aware that the additional activities they offer tourists in terms of for example hunting and fishing packages make them a nature-based tourism enterprise.
– It is not enough to only rent a cabin or just sell fishing and hunting licenses. But if you combine cottage rental with an activity in nature, such as hunting, fishing or boat, we define it as a nature-based tourism company, says Staveland.
Read more about the BIOTOUR project here.

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