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147 gilt-edged seconds

Money flows in: Manager Karin Mella, Elza Alexandrova and director Morten Helliksen at Svalbardbutikken are having busy days. FOTO: Eirik Palm

147 gilt-edged seconds

There is no reason to look for darkness in the shops, dining venues and accommodation businesses during the eclipse. The money is flowing freely. Very freely, tourism industry workers say.

As high volumes of tourists wait to experience the eclipse they are spending money on food, souvenirs and other purchases. How much they they are putting into the local economy is difficult to estimate, but expectations are high.


Easter x 2
"We are working to get extra mail flights," says Morten Helliksen, Svalbardbutikken's administrative director.

Flight traffic, capacity at Svalbard Airport and the number of lodging rooms limit how many people can come to Svalbard to experience the total solar eclipse on Friday morning. For 147 seconds it will be the pitch black, but that short time is lucrative.
The week started well. Sales at Coop Svalbardbutikken on Monday and Tuesday were about 700,000 kroner each day – more than twice the usual.

"It's Easter sales twice this year," Helliksen said. "Both this week and the next."

The visitors coming to Svalbard to experience the eclipse are equivalent to no more than a large cruise ship. The big difference is residents, many of whom typically depart during the summer, are also here.

Altogether it is expected there will be about 4,000 people in Longyearbyen the day of the eclipse. Most will need goods and services, in addition to a place to sleep.


25,000,000
Traffic is also busy this week at Visit Svalbard. Inquiries from those arriving are numerous, giving Sara Gerats and Mona Barlien many challenges to tackle behind the counter. The tourism agency estimates about 1,400 visitors will spend at least four days in Svalbard. Calculations made for Svalbardposten suggest each of those visitors is spending an average of 4,350 kroner per day on lodging, food, entertainment, excursions and shopping. That would result in a total revenue of 24.3 million kroner from those visitors.

In addition, there will be about 400 one-day visitors on Friday who are expected to spend about 2,000 kroner each.

"That is an estimate, but I do not think we've laid it on too thick," said Ronny Brunvoll, director of the tourism agency.

Feedback about changes in available accommodations is arriving and changing constantly. Barentsburg is nearly full. Pyramiden is fully booked. In Longyearbyen there are about 30 to 40 vacant rooms. Many independent travelers are also renting private rooms and residences. Svalbardposten has previously reported people have been willing to pay fairytale rates – as much as 20,000 kroner a night – during the months leading up to the eclipse.

"Beds are guaranteed not to be sold on the cheap," Brunvoll said, adding he believes visitors will be queuing up at some places.


Cleaned out
At the same time, there are fewer advance reservations at Huset. The restaurant seats up to 400 guests but Jeanette Gulliksen, who is responsible for the bookings, said seating remains available.

"There are fewer pre-orders, but there are many large groups that have ordered," she said. "We think people will instead decide to come after they arrive (in Longyearbyen)."

Those at Svalbardbutikken said they are optimistic about the strong sales at the beginning of the week continuing. Residents with business sense made sure to stock up on Monday and Tuesday, which helped result in the doubling of sales. But Svalbardbutikken Manager Karin Mella said the store ordered twice the usual amount of most foods.

"We were full up, but got stripped out, so it looks as if we have empty shelves," she said.

She was interrupted several times while talking with Svalbardposten by phone calls from reporters on the mainland wondering how well the store is prepared for the event and – not least– what is being done to keep the shelves from becoming empty.

Normally shoppers purchase things by the package, but this week there are frequently full cases in shopping carts when they are brought to the checkout lines.

"It seems that it is going like that for pretty much everything, to put it simply," Helliksen said.

In addition to the regular shoppers, they are selling a considerable amount of touring provisions.

But during the actual eclipse, the employees will lock the supermarket doors so they can take part in the event.

 
Funnest week
Brunvoll's pulse is considerably lower than it was a year ago when he tried to prepare the community for the coming indentation.

"I was uneasy then," he said. "There generally was not a complete understanding until the present. People were a little bit slow to act, but then got down to business and organized themselves."

People from around the world have flocked to Svalbard to experience a total solar eclipse in the high Arctic. Brunvoll has met South Africans and Australians, people who travel around the world to experience eclipses, people who are using the opportunity to combine the solar eclipse with a two-week trip, and people looking for a place to stay. Moreover, there are probably still some who believe that getting to Svalbard is the same as a trip to Hardangervidda national park in south-central Norway.

But logistically the worst that can happen now is storms that prevent guests from getting to Barentsburg or prevent planes from arriving here.

"I'm betting that this will go absolutely brilliantly," Brunvoll said. "When it comes down to it, people up here are accommodating. This is the funnest week of the year!"

Nøkkelord

Se bildet større

Vitist Svalbard: Sara Gerats helping guests with information about Svalbard and the Eclipse. In the background Mona Barlien and Ronny Brunvoll. FOTO: Eirik Palm

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