Oslo’s decision to address its infrastructure issues has been the catalyst for its growing MICE confidence. Simon George reports.
For a small city, Oslo has big plans. Norway’s compact capital has seen huge change in recent years and it is one of Europe’s fastest growing capitals. To get a sense of how much progress has made, a top-down approach is instructive.
Significant investment, both public and private, has led to major improvements in the city’s infrastructure in the past 10-20 years, Christian Lunde, CEO of Visit Oslo, told CMW.
Urban renewal in the shape of the Fjord City project has opened up Oslo’s central waterfront, led to the renovation of the harbour, freed up space for new cultural attractions such as Oslo’s opera house, and crucially removed a major traffic bottleneck that was clogging up the city – the bold decision to relocate the port south of the city, take out the city’s main thoroughfare and re-route the traffic under the sea resolving the problem.
Two new attractions will be completed in 2020 – the new Edvard Munch museum and the new national library, while a national museum of art, architecture and design is also set to open next year. Environmentally, Oslo aims to be carbon neutral by 2030; it has been voted European Green Capital 2019, a spin-off of which will see Norway host four big sustainable congresses this year, and it has one of the world’s most environmentally-friendly airports, whose target is to become the largest airport in Scandinavia in terms of passenger numbers.
Oslo’s Gardermoen airport had more than 28.5m passengers in 2018, 4% up year-on-year. Oslo was voted by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 cities to visit in 2018 and it made National Geographic’s ‘cool list’ for 2019.
Sustainability from a tourism perspective “is not only about the environment though,” Visit Oslo’s CEO is quick to stress, “it is also about the people and how you can make more money. A lot of people view sustainability solely from an environmental perspective… but the city sees it in a three-way perspective – people, planet and also profit”.
Lunde says Oslo (and Norway) is beginning to see the benefits of its concerted efforts: “We have been in the shadow of Stockholm and Copenhagen for many years. Norway only has 5m people – the Swedes have 10m. We have played little brother for many years. Now we actually have the confidence to say that we are growing.”
Lunde admits that Oslo’s infrastructure still needs work and that the plans to get private cars out of the city centre have highlighted the limitations of the city’s transportation structure. “We are still just at the beginning of a new era for the city,” he adds.
At a civic reception for participants of Oslo VIPeace 2018’s familiarisation trip at Oslo City Hall on 11 December 2018, both the city’s Deputy Mayor, Ms Kamzy Gunaratnam, and Lunde underlined the city’s “well-developed meetings infrastructure” and the city’s hotel and conference capacity.
Annie Kristi Korsmo, Visit Oslo’s Director of Conventions, elaborated a little for CMW: “Oslo’s main markets are the UK, the US, Europe and the Nordics, and recently there has been a big increase in interest from the Middle East,” Korsmo noted, explaining that Oslo was being promoted as a year-round destination and one very much focused on sustainability.
“We are seeing an increase in proposals from corporate events (including car launch proposals) and incentives, both summer and winter,” she added.
“A lot of people seem to know where it is, they know vaguely where Norway/Scandinavia is, but when they get to know what Oslo really has to offer, we are seeing an increase in business.”
Korsmo also points to new cultural attractions, new venues and new hotel openings in Oslo, which has now moved up to 19th place in ICCA’s European city ranking.
Since 2016, Korsmo’s team has identified and worked with 230 potential congresses for Oslo and has won 50 bids.
The convention division is also looking at Asia as a potential new market for Oslo and is participating in trade shows in the region.