Sweden’s foreign tourist figures fail to impress

Foreign tourists continue to visit Sweden, but not in the numbers expected by experts, who been forced to dial down their expectations for the future of Swedish tourism.

Sweden's foreign tourist figures fail to impress

Back in 2009, the Swedish tourism industry expected turnover from tourists to Sweden would double to 500 billion kronor ($74.4 billion) by 2020.

However, lackluster spending by foreign tourists has forced the Swedish Travel and Tourism Industry (RTS) to lower their expectations to 451 billion.

“It’s the foreign tourism that’s not growing at the speed we anticipated,” said Jan Lundin of the RTS to Dagens Industi newspaper (DI).

“Swedish tourism continues to grow, however”.

In fact, tourism in Sweden is continuing to grow as an overall trend, and experts insist that there is no crisis, as tourism statistics in Sweden have never been higher.

It’s just that expectations have not been met.

With a growth rate expected of 6.4 percent per year, analysists reasoned that a 515 billion kronor turn over could be expected in 2020, but last year’s growth of only 3 percent suggests this will be unlikely.

For the predicted doubling of tourist sales by 2020, the yearly percentage increase would need to rise to seven percent each year for the next eight years.

In concrete figures, this means an increase of 25 billion kronor a year, RTS wrote in a statement.

“The industry has set high goals, and this generates creativity. We cannot act alone here, and it’s time join hands with convention, culture and sports industry,” said Lundin in a statement.

“Together, we can create more reasons to travel here, to take part in community building, and to contribute to the development of the regions that don’t only attract more visitors, but even become attractive places to live and work.”

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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.