Swede signs up to Virgin Galactic space flight

A Malmö man has become the first Swede to sign up to Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space adventure after he shelled out 1.4 million kronor to fly to the frontier of space.

Swede signs up to Virgin Galactic space flight
Sir Richard Branson at the launch of the VSS Enterprise

“It feels great and we are very proud,” said Andreas Axelsson at Malmö-based Nätresebyrån, which sold the ticket, to the Metro newspaper.

According to Virgin Galactic’s website the unnamed Skåne man has joined a further 300 “Virgin Galactic Astronauts” who have paid the fee to join the queue for a trip to around 110 kilometres above the Earth’s surface.

The firm hopes to begin space trips in 2012 with the VSS Enterprise (or SpaceShipTwo) carrying eight passengers at a time up to a point just above the Kármán Line – named after the Hungarian-American engineer Theodore von Kármán and commonly used to define the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.

The first flights will depart from the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in the Mojave desert in California with the Esrange base in Kiruna in northern Sweden set to be the hub for the European market.

“We are all set. Virgin Galactic have said that the first flights will leave from our sister Spaceport in the US (Mojave) in 2012. We are ready to manage the commercial space flights when they expand to Europe,” Johanna Bergström-Roos at Spaceport Sweden told The Local on Thursday.

While Bergström-Roos was keen to point out that the Kiruna Spaceport’s main business is its research community, she welcomed the dawn of space tourism, predicting a significant impact on Kiruna and northern Sweden.

“When space tourism arrives it will be great. We have developed a three pronged approach to develop Kiruna as a space city in combination with our commercial partners, which include the Ice Hotel,” she said.

Bergström-Roos confirmed to The Local that while Spaceport Sweden is open to all operators, it is Virgin Galactic that have come closest to realizing the lofty goal of space travel for the common man, albeit with a price tag to match.

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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.

DISCOVER SWEDEN: The Local’s guide to Sweden’s top destinations and hidden gems

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.