World’s largest polar bear park opens in Sweden

Polar World, the world's largest polar bear park, opens today in Dalarna, Sweden. It is also the first park to engage in the breeding of the endangered species.

World's largest polar bear park opens in Sweden

“I can’t find the words to describe how proud we are to finally be able to open the park. The first idea took root in 2004, and now we have our first polar bears Ewa and Wilbär in their new home here,” said Torbjörn Wallin, CEO of Orsa Grönklitt, of which Polar World is now a part.

“The international interest has been enormous,” Wallin divulged in a statement released on Monday.

Polar World extends to 41,000 square metres and will open on Monday to the general public in Orsa, Dalarna. The facility incorporates a large deep water area, its own snow-making machinery and space for the bears to fish.

Furthermore visitors will able to gain information about the bears in the park’s exhibition premises, amphitheatre and visitor information stations.

While polar bears are not today classified as an endangered species, with 20-25,000 currently living in the wild, the future is far from secure as a a result of the galloping pace of climate change and its impact on their natural habitat in the polar regions.

The World Wildlife Fund has launched a campaign in 2009 for “A Push for Change for Polar Bears” as part of its work to arrest climate change.

Polar World is designed to be used as a European breeding centre for polar bears as part of a broader project to preserve them. The park aims to house bears with a large genetic variation to enable regeneration if that were to become necessary in the future.

One of the bears that have already arrived in Orsa is Wilbär – whose moniker is a portmanteau combining the name Wilbur and Bär, the German word for bear. Wilbär has been transferred from Stuttgart zoo and has been introduced to his new lady friend Ewa from Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

“Ewa is a stubborn lady of three years of age and Wilbär is a younger, curious lad. We now hope that cupid is on hand so that we can look forward to small polar bear cubs in the park to show off to the world,” Torbjörn Wallin said.

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Sweden launches bid to become world’s top tourism destination by 2030

Forget the pyramids, the canals of Venice or the Eiffel Tower – the Swedish government has presented a plan to make Sweden the world's most attractive tourism destination by 2030 – but it's not yet clear how.

Sweden launches bid to become world's top tourism destination by 2030
Many tourists are attracted to Sweden because of its nature. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

In a press conference on Monday, Sweden’s Minister for Business, Industry and Innovation Ibrahim Baylan outlined the new strategy, which aims to make Sweden “the world’s most sustainable and attractive tourism destination built on innovation” by 2030.

Baylan referred to Sweden as a country which “is usually ranked as one of the world’s most innovative countries”, which he argued can “create value for the tourism industry”.

According to Baylan, the strategy builds on “sustainability’s three dimensions – it has to be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable”. The strategy will also “tie into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030”, he said.

Topics covered by the new tourism strategy include the climate impact of tourism, equality and inclusion in the tourism industry and the importance of preserving shared resources such as national parks and sustainable nature tourism such as fishing and hunting.

The press release highlights the importance of natural tourism, explaining that the pandemic has led to people visiting natural and cultural environments “to a greater extent than before”, increasing wear and tear to natural areas.

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Tourism is an important industry for Sweden, providing employment in both urban and rural areas, as well as generating wealth – before the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism industry represented on average 2.7 percent of Sweden’s GDP per year. The tourism industry also employs a high amount of people from foreign backgrounds – making up over a third (34 percent) of all employees in the industry.

During the pandemic, overnight stays declined in almost every Swedish municipality, with the biggest declines seen in Sweden’s larger cities and border municipalitites.

The government’s plans also include a focus on jobs and skill development, so that workers have the right qualifications for the industry – this reflects issues currently faced by the restaurant and hotel industry in finding skilled workers in the wake of the pandemic. 

There are currently no details as to how the government will achieve this strategy, or indeed how it will measure success. But Sweden is aiming high if it wants to be the world’s most attractive tourist destination by 2030. In 2019, it was ranked the 54th top tourist destination in the world by the UN World Tourism Organisation.