The Impact of Sea Ice on Cruise Tourism on Svalbard

Keywords: Arctic, tourism, cruise tourism, sea ice, Svalbard, climate change


This paper explores the relationship between sea ice conditions and cruise tourism activities in the Arctic Archipelago of Svalbard. It analyzes how cruise tourism planning and organization depend on sea ice conditions and to what extent Arctic climate change influences tourism. A mixed-method approach, including sea ice analysis and interviews with 13 cruise tourism stakeholders, was applied to grasp the complexity of Svalbard’s cruise tourism. The outcomes show that cruise traffic depends on the sea ice cover, but only to some extent. Other factors, such as a location’s attractiveness or sailing regulations also influence cruise itineraries around Svalbard. Sea ice conditions are in general considered favorable for cruising around Svalbard, and sea ice is a not a decisive factor in cruise planning and organization. The sea ice cover around Svalbard is decreasing; thus, high annual and inter-annual unpredictability of sea ice poses challenges for cruise operations around Svalbard. Flexibility in itineraries, plus good cooperation and management help the cruise industry adjust to any challenges arising from uncertain sea ice conditions. However, issues of overcrowding and decreased attractiveness due to disappearing ice are more and more visible and may challenge the development of cruise tourism around Svalbard in the future.