By Anna Maria Urbaniak-Brekke, researcher at the Western Norway Research Institute.
Loen is an idyllically located village in Western Norway. It is surrounded by mighty mountains on both sides, in a beautiful fjord landscape: with Lodalen valley and Lovatnet lake in the back, and the fjord in the front. Loen is not large with its approximately 600 inhabitants, but the number of people increases sharply during the tourist season. In the last years, growing popularity of social media such as Facebook and especially Instagram, has led to a drastic increase in the amount of tourists visiting Lodalen a valley offering an astonishing view of a glacier surrounded by steep mountain slopes and bathing in a turquoise lake water. However, the local infrastructure is not ready for such a load and the environmental, economic and social sustainability of the area can be threatened.
This area has been a tourist attraction for over 150 years and a large part of the local economy depends on it. That is why there is no wish of limiting the tourist flow too much. At the same time, roads, accommodation and information are not being developed fast enough to match the increasing tourist traffic. That is why there is a need for focus on a more sustainable development, where both tourists and residents will enjoy visiting or living in Loen and Lodalen.
The impact of tourism, mostly on climate and the environment, but also the economy and society, has been a research topic since mass tourism emerged in the 1960s (Oklevik et al., 2019; Helgadóttir et al., 2019). Rural Norway has always played a central role in Norwegian tourism, especially in nature-based activity tourism. In the last 5-10 years, district tourism has experienced a large increase in the number of tourists, and local communities with their inhabitants form an important part of the attraction to rural destinations (Engeset, 2021; Ministry of Trade and Industry, 2017; Lane & Kastenholz, 2015).
In the Norwegian National Tourism Strategy, “Strong impressions with small imprints” (2021), a need was pointed out to take a closer look at the negative aspects of tourism. Namely, the importance of managing challenges coming with growth during volume increase at iconic tourism destinations (Engeset & Urbaniak-Brekke 2021).
The ambition now is, by listening carefully to both locals and tourists, to find a way for all of them to experience the place in the best possible harmony. In order to reach that goal measurements are being introduced that will improve the situation. Some of the examples are:
- Rental of green and small transport for tourists to move along the most popular but narrow roads
- Improvement of information and signage regarding the history of the place, but also accommodation and parking capacity
- Better access to sanitary services
- Good cooperation between accommodation owners and plans for further development of the camping base.
Hopefully Lodalen valley can be developed in such a way that is becomes a role model for other, similar mountain areas in Norway and internationally.
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