Norwegian mountain destination and second-home planning; sustainable or out of control?

Many places in the Norwegian mountain second-home developments has taken over much of the upper forest band, as here close to Skei ski resort.
Old times summer farming at Skei.
New times alpine skiing at Skei.
The old summer-farm area is being completely transformed.
The Skei mountain destination used to have two hotels and a large lodge. Today only one hotel remains, only open during the winter season.
It all started as summer tourism. The first hotel, “Gausdal Sanatorium” was erected in the middle of the summer-farm area and opened in 1876.
The Skei destination has about 2500 second homes and there are planes for more than a doubling of that number.

Ever growing second-home agglomerations engulf nearly every Norwegian ski resort, or mountain destination, with numerous metastases of new second-home fields spreading into pristine nature. The economic gravitational point of the ski resort has shifted from hotels and lodges to second-home tourism. The sales of plots and building of second homes has become the most important income source of outside capital in many local communities. At the same time, more critical voices are heard, both in the media and in the literature, questioning the sustainability, claiming that the planning is out of control. A main focus of the SPOT project in Norway will be to study legislation and planning practices as well as the discourses of governments and society.

Norway is the country in the world with the highest number of second homes per capita, more than 90 per 1000 inhabitants, only rivalled by Finland, which has similar numbers. Large second-home agglomerations continue to spread throughout the upper forest band, especially along south-west facing slopes, radiation out from the main ski resorts. The largest villages have many thousands second homes, up to 8000 in one destination alone. Consequently, the dominating mode of accommodation at the ski resorts and mountain destinations has moved from hotels and lodges to private second homes, with more than 150.000 second homes in the mountain region of southern Norway alone. The second-home dwellers have become the main market for the building of new ski lifts, activity providers, restaurants, bars and stores for shopping, which all need more space.

This development is further stimulated by a recent neoliberal trend in the physical planning tradition, where more of the planning is done by private developers and less by the governments and their administrations. The resulting piece-by-piece planning has not only caused increasingly negative consequences for nature and the environment and loss of nature and loss of access to and quality of nature for the tourist, but also unforeseen needs for infrastructure, with both economic and environmental consequences.

At one destination in Norway, Skei destination (which serves a one of the cases for the SPOT project), after a soaring number of new second-homes the local municipality is now faced with an acute water shortage, where there is not enough water for the snow cannons on the alpine slopes. The Gausdal municipality has only two fishing lakes in these mountains, and to large protests from landowners, farmers and other locals, they have suggested the expropriation of one of the two lakes and turn it into a water reservoir. This will end recreational fishing and transform a large part of the mountain area most used by tourist and locals.

As most of the mountain destinations, the Skei ski resort started off as a summer farm area. The farming resources were restricted in the valleys, and the grass had to be used for haymaking. Therefore, the people in the valley took their livestock up to their summer farms so that they could pasture there. Still today, cattle and sheep are grazing here, but now often between the thousands of second homes sprawling out over the summer-farm areas. The farmers have retained their right to pasture, but the second-home population is gradually becoming more hostile to this practice. Consequently, the mountains as a food-producing resource is under pressure.

If interested in the topic, do not hesitate to approach our Norwegian team directly.

Meet Hnat, our Ukrainian colleague

Meet Hnat Sumyshyn, Ukrainian student of the Faculty of Geographical Sciences at University of Lodz in Poland. Now, he is a master student of spatial planning and organisation programme and a member of the students’ community of the project ‘SPOT. Sustainable Spatial Planning of Tourism Destinations’. He also participated in our study visit to Turkey. In this terrible and uncertain time of military invasion of Russia against Ukraine we would like to share the story of Hnat and his opinion on the situation in his homeland.

Hnat grew up in Kyiv. After completing bachelor studies at the National University of Taras Shevchenko he moved to Poland. He wanted to make his dream of living a new life, in a new country, on his own rules come true. Hnat underlined that the language and culture of Poland and Ukraine are so similar. That makes the adaptation easy. And Lodz. From the perspective of a Ukrainian student, mundane things like costs of living really matter. Hnat also mentioned the attractiveness of the educational offer and social support of University of Lodz. From the perspective of an international student interested in geography and Geographical Information Systems in particular, the Faculty of Geographical Sciences at University of Lodz was the best choice.

All friends of Hnat know that he is an avid runner. We asked him about his hobby, and then realised that it is much more than a hobby. Hnat said: “I have been running for 3 years. From my perspective this is much more than just physical activity. It’s about lifestyle. (…) In these difficult times, running helps me relieve stress and explore myself for a while. And in general, I think a day without any sport activity is a day wasted.

We asked Hnat about the current situation in Ukraine. Hnat found out what happened from his friend. After that, innumerable messages began to flow in. Hnat said: “I understood everything but didn’t believe it.” At the moment, Hnat is in constant contact with his parents in Kiev. For now, their situation is very difficult. Due to the risk of air raids they often spend the nights in the basement. Hnat feels safe in Poland, but his thoughts are always with his parents.

Hnat believes that declaring war on the Ukrainian people, which values their own freedom above all else, is a great mistake of Putin. He tells the Russians directly: “This is our land and no one wants you here! We will fight to the end! (…) Dear Russian mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters, do you understand that your sons, husbands, grandchildren and brothers are going to certain and senseless death?” Hnat does not hide his gratitude to the Western countries for the decisive answer. And to the Poles he says directly: “You guys are great! I have seen how many of you are involved in fundraising and helping.

We asked Hnat about any requests or suggestions to the community of the SPOT project regarding the recent situation in Ukraine. And the only thing was the truth. To tell the truth about Ukraine, the country which defends not only itself but the whole Europe, and European values. And those values are also the core values of our project.

Kızkalesi case study – Metropolitan perspective

The meeting with representatives of metropolitan institutions and organizations was held at the Faculty of Architecture, Mersin University on December 8, 2021. The discussion was moderated by Yasemin Sarıkaya Levent and Tolga Levent. In the meeting the following persons were present: Barbaros Bektaş (Mersin Metropolitan Municipality – Chief planner responsible from Erdemli District), Barış Başeren (Mersin Directorate of Water Affairs – Engineer responsible from infrastructural issues), Ahmet Yıldız (Denizkızı Incorporated Company – Vice manager responsible from tourism), Feriha Baş (Mersin Museum, Vice president and archaeologist responsible from scientific excavations in Korykos archaeological site), Fikret Ünlüer (Freelance Planner – Author of the Kızkalesi spatial plans), Nupelda Bedirhanoğlu (Mezitli Municipality), and Gizem Akdeniz (Freelance Planner).

It was nice to hear that local stakeholders of tourism development and spatial planning are glad to host participants of SPOT project study visit in Mersin. It is important that spatial planners of the region are eager to apply achievements of both project and study visit: policy recommendations in particular. Sustainability and accessibility are recognized as the keywords of spatial planning in Kızkalesi. Thus, our contribution is expected.

One of important planning issues is that tourism functions are developing in the residential areas, out of areas planned to be used by tourism related activities. Moreover, buildings located in coastal areas assigned now to tourism development do not match tourist facility requirements determined by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. This also increases spatial planning issues. We were explained that star ranked hotels requests plots large enough to meet all legal requirements. Yet, plots in Kızkalesi are small in size to meet the requirements. Moreover, the new amendment to legislation resulted in changes of responsibility in labeling hotels with stars, from local authorities towards centralized system. In consequence, lot of hotels lost their stars. Now, that facilities operates as apart hotels or pensions rather than hotels.

Next issue results from conservation areas plenty of which are located in case study area. We were explained about 3 levels of conservation degree of archeological sites. The 1st degree conservation area means that any construction or agriculture activities are prohibited. On the other hand, the 3rd degree conservations areas are allowed for urban development with low density and only after the careful examination by experts from local museum. Kızkalesi has limited development area as being surrounded by archaeological conservation areas.

Water supply system in tourism destinations is usually extremely fragile and depends on the efficiency of pipes transporting water into populated areas. It was emphasized that water supply system in northern part of Kızkalesi is not sufficient, in summer season in particular. However, the quality of the system should be increased, pipelines and storage tanks should be renewed. Second thing is that households and other entities have to be connected to the civic water supply system. It is also the issue in northern part of case study area. Similar problems are noticed for sewage system. Fortunately, not significant problems of rainwater system are evidenced.

Kızkalesi is very special location. Thus, special approach for spatial planning should be applied. The problems started when central government decentralized spatial planning system and assign spatial planning tasks to municipalities whose employees at that time had no requested skills and competencies. In small communities like Kızkalesi the main problem is that most of people, including all stakeholders of spatial planning like property owners and authorities are relatives, have family connections. This makes every decision to decrease property rights difficult or even impossible. Resulting this development rights have been increased by increasing height of buildings without regarding sustainability of the settlement.

It was emphasized during the meeting that spatial planning of coastal areas has two dimensions in general: horizontal focused on relations and specificity of neighboring coastal destinations, and vertical emphasizing the relations between coastal zone and backward areas. One of our debater emphasized that sometimes would be better to demolish everything and start construction again following state of the art of spatial planning.

We asked during the meeting about social participation in spatial planning. Then, we were explained by local experts that public hearing meetings are only on a paper. Locals might only reject plans. However, this decision might be rejected by the municipality. Spatial planning is not a process following postulates of social participation. Representatives of municipalities and also freelance planners are afraid that such attitude might make spatial planning process never ending story.

It was clarified that the beach of Kızkalesi is being operated by Denizkızı Incorporated Company of Mersin Metropolitan Municipality. The beach is suitable for the use of disabled people and both the municipality and the company have strategies to make public spaces including beaches accessible for disabled people. There are two buffets, 14 restrooms and more than 40 cabins operated by the company. The company hires sun umbrellas and sunbeds, but they do not charge money for the entrance. Yet the beach in front of the land castle is operated by Mersin Museum which charges fee for entrances.

It was indicated that both sea castle and land castle are unique structures in terms of architectural techniques and also for tourism development. Yet both could not be used efficiently for tourism development. Sea castle is reached by small boats operated by private initiatives. There is no proper coastal structure for the operation of boats. Even though scientific excavations and restoration works have been completed and the structure is proper to host different activities, there are not social or cultural activities conducted within the sea castle. In terms of conservation of archeological sites but also flood protection in general, coastal defense structure is requested by now. However, as such system might significantly influence landscape, it should be constructed carefully and with proper awareness. On the other hand, land castle is closed for visits due to ongoing scientific excavations for the last two years. It will take a lot of time to complete archeological excavations and studies which would prevent the use of land castle for touristic purposes for short term. Mersin metropolitan municipality with limited financial and human resources is the only funding institution covering costs of that process. On the one hand, ancient heritage is a core resource for tourism development, on the other one – truly big issue.

Kızkalesi case study – Locals talking

We would like to send our greetings to all local stakeholders from Kızkalesi who agreed to meet us and share with us their stories, problems, and ideas, namely: Yusuf Çelik (Manager, Has Hotel), Mevlüt Erzurum (Manager of Okan Apart Hotel), Nur Kaya (Manager of Barbaros Hotel), İbrahim Kale (Manager of Etap Hotel), Natık Çoban (Çobanbey Real Estate), Mehmet Şirin Öztop (Owner of Rain Hotel and Rain Garden Restaurant), Murat Kale (Mukhtar of Kızkalesi Neighborhood), Ali Rıza Eren (Kızkalesi Representative of DHA News Agency), and Halit Öztop (Manager of Rain Garden Restaurant). The meeting was organized in Rain Garden Restaurant in Kızkalesi on December 7, 2021. The discussion was moderated by Yasemin Sarıkaya Levent and Tolga Levent from Mersin University, Faculty of Architecture.

Local stakeholders from Kızkalesi emphasized that they appreciate interest of SPOT project team in their problems and issues. They were really eager to know more details about the project to better understand benefits they can have when cooperating with us.

Issues of tourism development and tourism planning in Kızkalesi

The first issue locals mentioned is the seasonal demographical changes. The winter population of the settlement is about 3,000 people, whereas it increases up to 60,000 people during high season. This huge increase of population in high season results in insufficiencies in technical infrastructure. Infrastructural problems related to delivering drinking water and sewerage in high tourism season (4 months per year) are main challenges to be solved by local administrations. Despite there is a developed sewerage refinement unit in the neighborhood, the capacity of the sewerage system network creates problems. The network of drinking water system is old. The second infrastructural problem relates to transportation accessibility, as there is only one road connecting Kızkalesi with Mersin and then Adana airport. Duration of trips from Adana airport to Kızkalesi is long especially for international tourists. Moreover, from internal perspective, development of car parking areas is demanded. During high season both infrastructure effectiveness and capacity of local accommodation facilities are insufficient from the perspective of high demand.

Locals also emphasized institutional issues: no strategy, no master plan to differentiate tourism activities across the space, no organization to represent their interests as well as to manage and promote their initiatives. They did not identify conflicts between locals and local authorities. However, after the disbandment of the municipality in 2014, some issues of local management should be underlined related mainly on delays of provision of various services. Crime related problems have already been solved by placing surveillance cameras along the beach and sending to the area additional police supporting local forces during high tourism season.

Locals identified that their contribution to regional development is significant, also from promotional perspective – Kızkalesi is used as a core regional brand attracting both tourists and investors. On the other hand, they do not get much back as public investments. As thus, they fill disappointed by that way of regional policy.

Considered soultions

Locals have no power and no authority to run all activities requested to solve their problems. However, still they want to discuss and propose some ideas. They were aware that sea and sun is the main tourism activity in the area, yet they want to diversify tourism activities by introducing alternative types of tourism like sport tourism, bird watching, international festivals (stopped unfortunately by Covid-19 pandemic). To extend season all through the year they proposed to establish a vocational school in cooperation with Mersin University for the winter periods. The second idea is to build a sport complex especially for amateur sport clubs. They believe that this sport complex could also be beneficial for locals especially for young people. To increase the profitability of tourism, locals try to attract international tourism, not only domestic one. Aiming this, they are aware of the need to increase the quality of tourism service facilities in the region instead of quantitative growth.

Locals also emphasized that the main natural resource they use are beaches – home of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). Unfortunately, due to environmental changes due to floods, the structure of beaches has changed. It becomes rockier under the sand. Those thin layer of sand on beach makes beaches less attractive for turtles. Yet, locals mentioned that Göksu Wetland in Silifke has natural beaches used by sea turtles, as well as by different types of migratory birds. For Kızkalesi local stakeholders it is difficult to imagine the situation that tourism disappears. Thus, they do not consider alternatives for tourism. However, along with tourism, most of the locals deals with agriculture, especially citrus, olive and vegetable production. Thus, hotel owners are farmers in the same time. When looking at the history of region’s development, tourism was preceded by agriculture and husbandry.

COVID-19 impact on tourism: case of Polish hotels

COVID-19 pandemic started just three months after SPOT project kick-off meeting. Pandemic outbreak triggered a major global crisis affecting various human activities, including travel and tourism. It also influenced SPOT project as already planned mobilities of students and researchers had to be postponed or even cancelled. As thus, our first focus was on delivering analysis of evidenced and expected impact of COVID-19 pandemic on tourism. Hotels are recognized as a core element of tourism infrastructure. In consequence, hotels are of particular interest of destination management organizations and institutions responsible for spatial planning. This was a reason we decided to consider the situation of hotel industry during pandemic times. Urban hotel markets in Poland were our case.

Negative COVID-19 impact on Polish urban hotel markets were more significant in less internationalized and less populated destinations. Thus, in the short-term perspective, the recovery of hotel industry would be much easier, reflecting only an epidemic in the national context. Hotels located in destinations targeting domestic tourism mainly are less influenced by international crises. On the contrary, recovery of the investigated industry in more internationalized and more populated destinations will be much more complicated and affected by health strategies applied not only in Poland but, also, in tourist-generating countries. Thus, the geographical segmentation of hotel markets as well as increase of sustainable approach in general should become the focus of hotel managers but also destination management organizations.

To find more details of our research, do not hesitate to read our paper entitled: Impact of Geographic Distribution of COVID-19 Cases on Hotels’ Performances: Case of Polish Cities.

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