The Governor of Svalbard has previously inquired about the need to require tour operators in Svalbard to certify guides. Two years ago, while working on the management plan for eastern Svalbard, the governor again stated it should be evaluated. The motivation was safeguarding tourists' safety and knowledge of conservation values.
The Ministry of Justice and Public Security has now discussed the issue and, acting on the advice of the governor, concluded the quality of tour operators and guides on Svalbard is good enough that certification is not necessary.
"The industry is emerging as serious and responsible, and is taking security for people and the environment seriously," the justice ministry wrote in its recommendation. "The industry itself has taken responsibility and has organized itself to ensure that the quality can be said to be good.The Svalbard Guide Training Course and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators' self-imposed guidelines are good examples of this."
Boasting about the work
Visit Svalbard and the cruise tourism council said they are pleased the ministry is moving away from certification requirements.
"The requirements for certification of guides on the individual level would put us in a difficult situation," said Ronny Brunvoll, director of Visit Svalbard. "If there are to be certification requirements, it has to come at the company level. Tourism is seasonally based and the winter season is two-and-a-half months. If anyone had said yes to a job for the season, they would have had to have gone through a three-month course first if there was a requirement for each guide. We must make sure they do not kill the industry in the good of expedient service."
Brunvoll bragged about the process resulting in the proposed regulations.
"The ministry has spoken with industry beforehand, listened and collected knowledge," he said. "It's also nice that the governor can reach the conclusion that the travel industry works well."
The ministry stated there is still a need to establish regulations imposing rules for tour operators that doesn't exist today. Current tourism regulations for Svalbard state tourism companies must document sufficient and relevant knowledge of local conditions. The governor has stated this is too narrowly defined. The ministry is therefore proposing the wording should be:
"Tour operators and research and educational institutions are responsible for ensuring the safety of participants at any given time is handled in a proper manner."
In addition the proposal state operators must have adequate and relevant knowledge, skills and experience when it comes to relevant legislation, including polar bear safety, glaciers, landslides and sea ice. The same applies to first aid, local conditions – in terms of climate, natural environment and cultural heritage – and other conditions that are necessary for implementation of the tour plan.
Although the quality of tour operators in Svalbard is generally good, the governor has called for sanctions against companies that do not hold themselves to the regulations. The justice ministry is therefore proposing a new clause giving the governor the ability to deny tour operators, along with research and educational tour programs, during a particular time period.
"The decision shall take into consideration whether, having taken into account the tour operator or research and educational institution's dealings and other circumstances, it seems reasonable to postpone the right to register tour or field programs," the proposal states.
Visit Svalbard has already established several requirements for its member companies and has its own certification for Svalbard guides. The tourism agency said it's good the governor will now get even better access to quality assure tourism businesses.
"We will operate properly and safely," Brunvoll said. "For us it is entirely positive that the requirements are specified in the regulations. As new operators enter, it is is in our interest that they have the same quality as the rest. There is a vulnerability in what we're doing. Governments, environmental organizations and customers are watching us. If we do something foolish, we as an industry will be punished for it. It is in our own interest that everything works."
Also for researchers
New in the proposed tourism regulations is they should also apply research and educational institutions that organize fieldwork. The governor suggested this because of a belief the rules about security should also apply to those entities, which the justice ministry agrees with.
In a consultation statement, UNIS Administrative Director Ole Arve Misund wrote he shares that assessment. UNIS conducts its own safety training for all employees and students before they are allowed to go out in the field. Prior to field activities the risks are considered, and they cooperate with the governor about security, preparedness and performing activities with minimal environmental impact, he wrote.
Deadline creates trouble
The justice ministry is proposing to amend the time period for when a travel plan must be reported to the governor. A month is currently required before a trip is marketed, while the ministry is proposing it should be reported eight weeks before the program starts.
UNIS argues this timespan may create unnecessary bureaucracy for them. They are instead seeking a general permit based on semiannual reports about the coming field research and cruise seasons. They are also willing to continue biannual meetings with the governor they have had previously.
"Our activities are fundamentally different from the tourism industry in relation to that we do not always have regular destinations or travel plans that will be implemented," Misund wrote in the consultation statement. "Registration of all fields of activity and all countries participating eight weeks before the planned implementation will entail massive additional work."
He also warned there will be many unnecessary procedures if they must adhere to an eight-week deadline.
Translated by Mark Sabbatini.