Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Selling cold Tourism ? Bear Insights from Tromso in the Arctic circle

It was 20 in Prague the week before and at least 15 in London.  The flower show was taking place in Chelsea, a sign surely that spring was well under way ?  You can imagine my surprise when landing at ten in the evening in broad daylight at a busy Tromso airport (pronounced something like Trumsa) to find snow dominating the mountain landscape.  Damn ! I did not have enough warm clothes for the 8 degree temperature that would last for my short visit.  Now I know why Norwegian's like to wear under T-shirts.

Over dinner associate Entrepreneurship professor Elin explained that Norways mountains and fjords, perched on the Atlantic's european border, was believed to be a climatic driving force in a more spontaneous national culture, compared with the more protected Sweden were things are more planned and organised. 

You know you are off the beaten tracks, or I have Viking genes, because every stranger encounter I had started in the Norwegian language.  I was shocked at having to keep repeating that I did not understand. As a not very amazing polyglot, I usually do ok in Spanish, German, Italian and French, but although the written language bares some resemblance to German, orally I was lost, unlike my recent visits to neighbouring Sweden.  Unusually being from London was a positive talking point, I discovered just how popular the English premier league  football was chatting with friendly locals.  I am from southern England - I do not do this kind of thing, not willingly at least.  

With an economic foundation from exploiting the rich artic fisheries and the historic base for Roald Amundsen's polar explorations, this 70 thousand strong community boasts a ten thousand strong university community, just a touch larger than Royal Holloway.

Derek Clark, head of school and my excellent host for the visit.  So what is the link with Polar bears ?  Hunters used to bring back cubs that would have been seen on the streets of Tromso in days gone by.  I was pleased to find out that the never lived in the area.  No rifle required here.

Despite a cold, hard climate, tourism is a key economic factor, as one of the students business idea I learnt about sought to benefit from northern lights tourists, the mystical green light that comes from solar burst activity, visible during the dark winter nights.  24 hour darkness and midnight sun are also unusual geographic features that form part of the tourism body's marketing proposition, with the unAfrican 'safari' term co-opted into package guided tours for whale, seal and bird watching.  The Clarion With hotel offered half board as standard, afternoon waffles and a free self service drinks facility.  Indoor social lingering space abounded, with a Scandinavian design cool that was very welcoming.  You might sense I loved the place.

Norway's five million anti-unionists broke away from powerful Sweden, with twice the population, before the north sea oil made them one of the wealthiest (per capita GDP) nations on earth.  With all the economic benefits of being in Europe's single market (EEA) whilst preserving its political independence, it is hard to see full EU membership coming any time soon.  Even though car registrations now conform to the blue tinged EU standard, a refrain I heard often was being governed by the EU, without having any say in the rules.  Significant infrastructural investments in civic buildings and services are a noticeable benefit from the 4% of oil revenues that are invested, with roads and tunnel networks, which were rather impressive considering the fierce climate, and better than those I bobble along on in Surrey Heath.  You imagine that such surplus wealth wound be diverted south and east if Brussels could get their hands the cash.

Justin has an encounter with a polar bear in the hotel lobby

I had been inspired to visit from the confluence of a random conversation with a Scouting buddy, who had just visited with her mum to catch the northern lights and the new Sky drama, Fortitude, which was geographically identified  as Svaarlbad, an island 40 jet minutes futher north but filmed more in Iceland.  Whilst Royal Holloway's polar bears are painted and depicted on Franklin's ship wreck in Canada, Tromo's ferociuos black skinned bears were all stuffed or in the form of tourist trinkets.  Quite why Coca Cola makes these beasts cute and cudly, I know not.

Tromso uni (UiT) is the world's most northerly business school.  The town also boasts the world's most northerly micro brewery, also visited for purely academic motives.  I spent most of my time at the business schools design thinking (DT) lab and learning about UiT's MSc in Business Creativity and Entrepreneurship programme.  Loved it, cannot wait to go back !

Stunning polished silver facade:  UiT University in Tromso