OSLO, Norway -- Northern lights and Nordic skiing. Reindeer and the
Arctic Circle. Ask Americans what Norway brings to mind and such
wintry images might be the replies.
Yet the vast majority of U.S. tourists most often choose to
visit Norway during its short high season, from June to August,
when daylight lasts longest, the weather's at its mildest -- and
crowding is at its worst.
So tourism officials and tour operators are working both to
extend the peak season and encourage off-season visits.
"We have tried to extend the high season from May to September
because I think those are ideal travel months for Norway," said
Arne Brekke, president of Brekke Tours and Travel in Grand Forks,
N.D. "Norway is trying desperately to extend the season, as they
get too much travel there in the summer."
For example, heritage travel is fueling growth so quickly at
Brekke Tours and Travel that bookings in 2002 outstripped the
pre-9/11 high season the year before.
"In spite of negative signs, people are going and I honestly
don't understand it," said Brekke.
And winter travel -- despite short days, copious precipitation
and nippy air -- is a natural fit that operators want to grow.
"We don't book a large amount of winter, as our business is very
summer-oriented, but there are individuals braving it this time of
year," said Brekke, who sent an Illinois theater group to Norway on
a Henrik Ibsen-themed itinerary this month.
"And I would say that if we could get people interested in
skiing in Voss or Lillehammer, more could be done to promote Norway
as a winter destination like Switzerland."
Officials at the Norwegian Tourist Board (NTB) agree.
"We would love to promote winter travel, and there are tour
operators that do," said Marie Guarnieri, director of the NTB
offices in New York. "They find they do OK sales for the winter,
but part of the reason may be they're really the only ones who do
Guarnieri said she has struggled for years to get Norwegian
supplier partners to view the U.S as a viable market for the
promotion of winter travel.
"Honestly, a ski vacation in Norway, including air fare from the
U.S., isn't going to be much more expensive than going to
Colorado," she added. "And December is definitely one of the
prettier months in Norway."
Even Passage Tours, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., still does
up to 90% of its business in traditional peak months -- despite a
25-year legacy of peddling the widest range of winter tours to
"But there is some movement toward winter travel," said Roald
Noto, vice president of Passage Tours. "A lot of people have the
idea Norway's too dark and cold then, but on the west coast, the
temperature rarely drops below freezing."
Ski trips, dogsled safaris, northern lights viewings and other
adventure packages are the best winter sellers at Passage Tours,
which also offers two-, three- and five-night city stays in Oslo
through March 31, priced from $438 per person with hotel and
For more information, contact Passage Tours -- which pays 10%
commission -- at (800) 548-5960 or www.passagetours.com. For Brekke Tours and Travel,
which pays 8%, call (800) 437-5302 or visit www.brekketours.com.