Fjords to fortune: How Oslo’s sustainable tourism is shaping Norway’s economic future

Sara Raymond de Booy

21 November 2023

“We’re not just talking about marketing and maximizing profit and the amount of tourists, but actually building alliances and seeing how building Oslo as a tourist destination actually can contribute to a more sustainable future.”

– Anne-Signe Fagereng, Director of Marketing at VisitOSLO



In a country like Norway where prosperity has traditionally been tied to oil extraction, transitioning to a cleaner future without jeopardizing economic stability isn’t easy. But in cases like this, tourism can play a crucial role in diversifying the economy, facilitating collaboration, and driving positive change. 

In Oslo, carbon neutral by 2030 is a serious goal that many are tirelessly working toward. Innovative initiatives like climate budgets that account for emissions are helping to drive change. And they’re working. 

From a harbour that’s clean enough to swim in for the first time in years through to a huge uptake in EV adoption, Norway is already seeing the benefits of thinking long term. In this chat with Anne-Signe Fagereng from Visit Oslo, we learn about how this progress is being made and why marketing is needed more than ever to ensure that tourism aligns with the city’s larger goal. 

This episode, you’ll learn:

  • About cultural shifts and tipping points happening in Norway.
  • How cities have responsibilities to lead.
  • Progress made in Oslo toward becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
  • How marketing and promotion still have an important place in destination management. 



Subscribe to Travel Beyond through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast player.

Show notes

  • Innovation Norway: a government organization that fosters innovation to advance Norwegian businesses and industries.
  • VisitOSLO: “the official marketing organization for Oslo and the surrounding regions.”


Episode transcript

Anne-Signe Fagereng: I think to actually make an impact, the one thing that you really have to start to do is to start building alliances. As I said before, who else have got a stake in your city or your destination strengthening its brand? And that’s probably coupled very closely to sustainability. 

David Archer: Hello everyone and welcome back to Travel Beyond, where we partner with leading destinations to explore the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet, surfacing their most inspiring solutions. I’m David Archer, Editorial Manager at Destination Think, and I’m recording from Daajing Giids, British Columbia, which is in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation. 

On this podcast, we look at the role of travel and we highlight destinations that are global leaders. We talk to the change makers who are addressing regenerative travel through action in their communities, often from the bottom up. And we’re always looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems, so please drop us a line if you have a story to share.

In this episode of our series on Europe’s travel leaders, we’ve got an intriguing conversation with Anne-Signe Fagereng from VisitOSLO. It’s no secret that Norway’s prosperity has been tied to oil extraction for some time, but the culture is changing, and these days you might get funny looks from your Oslo neighbours if you bought a new car and it wasn’t electric.

As a city, Oslo is working hard to meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030, and while the pathway to lower emissions might seem complicated on the surface, the progress being seen in this country is truly inspiring. While all of this is going on, tourism is being seen as a more sustainable option that can help maintain Norway’s prosperity over the long term.

In this chat, we learn about Visit Oslo’s role in supporting the city’s climate goals, and why destination management still requires strategic kinds of promotion as well. Anne-Signe Fagereng is the Director of Marketing at Visit Oslo. Here’s what Destination Think CEO Rodney Payne learned when he sat down to speak with her during the 2023 City Destinations Alliance Conference in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Anne-Signe Fagereng: My name is Anne-Signe Fagereng. I work at VisitOSLO.

Rodney Payne: It’s really nice to talk to you today. I think I’ve looked at the work that you do from afar and the level of ambition in Oslo and some of the thinking coming out of Norway. So it’s nice to get a chance to sit down and talk to you. From a city perspective in Oslo, there’s quite a high level of ambition in terms of carbon and decarbonization.

Could you tell me a little bit about that?

Anne-Signe Fagereng: Yeah. So the municipality of Oslo has a climate strategy, and they have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030.

So that’s quite a, an ambitious target. And they have, they have good strategies in place for that. And one thing that is quite innovative and pioneering, I would say, is that there’s It’s the first city that has like they have a climate budget. 

So, of course, every municipality will have a financial budget. That’s our income. That’s our costs. And they actually have that budget for climate emissions as well. This is what we do to reduce emissions. And this is what we actually do. Because, of course, there’s lots of things going on that contribute to climate emissions as well. So we see how we are going towards balancing that towards 2030.

And it means they’re accountable to the citizens, and the authorities, and everyone. So that’s a good step of getting there.

Rodney Payne: You have a role to promote tourism to Oslo. How do you reconcile the ambitions around climate with your job to make sure the world knows about how great a place Oslo is to visit?

Anne-Signe Fagereng: Yeah, lots of great challenges to discuss there. Of course, Norway, as you know, is a country that’s been based on, well, it’s not based on it, but prosperity is based to a large extent on oil extraction. If the travel industry becomes a more central part of our future prosperity, that could be a good thing. We obviously need to do a lot of work. And Oslo is a place that has lots of space, capacity. I think we have the natural conditions to have people come to us and enjoy our destination in responsible ways. If we get that balance between enjoying our culture and our nature and our events in a sort of good balance.

So it’s about the balance, I guess. And also it’s about what we’re talking about at the conference. We’re now about not just talking about marketing and maximizing profit and the amount of tourists, but actually building alliances and see how can us building Oslo as a tourist destination actually contribute to a more sustainable future.

Rodney Payne: What are some of the things that give you inspiration that are happening within Oslo? 

Anne-Signe Fagereng: Ah, so many things I would say. But I think that we are just getting much better at just understanding the privilege of where we’re living. We’re surrounded by the Oslofjord. And it’s a fjord that used to be quite dirty and polluted, and there’s been so much good work going on.

So now there are, like, saunas scattered all around the fjord, and we can just jump in the sea just outside the opera house. And we have the culture there and the nature there. And we also have, if we go the other way, like behind the city, if you will, only on the 20 minutes metro ride, we have these ski tracks. Like a thousand kilometers we can go.

And that’s provided for, and that’s for citizens and visitors alike, of course. There’s so many chances to, to enjoy it in a responsible way. 

And now in the last ten years, we also opened up the fjord much more. It used to be a port where all you could see were containers. And we had the highway going straight through there. And it was a port city. But the port was ugly, and it was dirty, and now it’s just really opened up, and it’s become such a big part of the quality of our lives, and also our destination’s attractiveness, so that’s really, really inspiring, I would say. And also just the way that the city has changed in a way that it’s so enjoyable to move around it.

It used to be quite car-based, but now the cars are pretty much out of the city, larger and larger zones where it’s car-free, and that’s been sort of compensated, if you will, by improving the public transport system. And most of our buses and trams are electric, and also now the boats, because we are a city at the fjord with lots of islands, and to get to some of the museums, you need to go in a boat and that’s electric, and that’s not only because it feels better to travel like low emission, but also that’s so much more enjoyable.

It’s quiet. You feel like you’re part of the city, of the nature and everything. 

Rodney Payne: It’s one of the things I hear a lot is, there’s a moral imperative for us to address emissions. And there’s more regulation, especially here in Europe, coming. But often, when someone drives an electric car for the first time or experiences an electric boat for the first time, there’s all these other benefits that come with it as well.

And it’s almost like those are the things we need to be talking about more. And less about the moral imperative that we’ve had looming over us for 10 or 20 years now, and more about how quiet it is, and how much better the future is that we can create once we start 

Anne-Signe Fagereng: Yeah, Absolutely.

And I, but I think we kind of need both because in Norway, I don’t think in Oslo, I don’t think, you can go to any city and see such a high percentage of the cars that you do see if you go a little bit outside the center that are electric vehicles. But there is a reason for that because it was subsidized quite heavily.

But now it’s hard for any Norwegian, even if they’re subsidised or normalised to think about buying a new car that’s not electric. So I think that kind of goes hand-in-hand.

Rodney Payne: Yeah, I’ve watched the EV adoption rate in Norway over the last few years and it’s really, it’s excellent to see.

Can you tell me more about that sort of cultural tipping point? Where it’s become not acceptable to buy a non-EV?

Anne-Signe Fagereng: Yeah, I don’t know. I think I think the economic incentives was really got it going, because we have this toll station and you could drive through there for free.

And you have lanes, you could go with the buses. Now you can’t do that anymore, of course, because there’s so many electric vehicles. So you just create more congestion by doing that. But yeah, there was a tipping point, you know, sometime a few years ago, because now people, so many people have realized it feels better.

It’s more comfortable and it also to go back to a combustion engine car just seems like going back. It’s like starting smoking again after having quit, you know, so… 

Rodney Payne: So if you bought a combustion car, what would your neighbours say? What would your family say? 

Anne-Signe Fagereng: They just look at you,

Rodney Payne: Yeah.

Anne-Signe Fagereng: I guess. You get funny looks, really, I suppose.

Rodney Payne: It’s almost like smoking in an aeroplane…

Anne-Signe Fagereng: It is, yeah. It’s a bit like, it’s a bit like that, yeah. And you, I think you sort of have to explain yourself if you do it. And some people do and probably have good reason, but if you live in Oslo with a sort of normal family life, it’s not really an option, it seems.

Rodney Payne: Can you tell me a little bit about Norway’s strategy towards tourism?

Anne-Signe Fagereng: Uh, yeah. So, Innovation Norway, that’s the agency, the government agency that also has a Visit Norway, that’s responsible for developing the tourism industry in Norway. They created a new strategy last year.

And the headline there is big impact, small footprints. And it’s about, increasing the economic value of tourism, increasing the satisfaction, increasing our communities, because we, Norway is like a country where the population is really scattered. It’s a typical country that really benefits from tourism because it makes local economy more sustainable.

So we have all these strategic areas that we want to grow. But then at the same time, emissions going down. And so they have all these initiatives to make that happen both short term and long term. It’s got a lot to do with measuring, measuring impact and also research and the green, the so called green shift.

That’s very much technology-based. 

Rodney Payne: When I first saw Innovation Norway’s new strategic direction come out, I think it was one of the first destination strategies that really owned up to scope three emissions and stared it in the face and didn’t pretend that how people get to a destination is not our problem. And it was very inspiring to see, and hearing that together with what’s going on in Oslo is a really nice story. 

One of the things that I also happened to catch is some of the marketing that Innovation Norway is doing. I saw a, a sustainable travel blogger from Copenhagen coming for six weeks. And that tells me a lot from a national tourism board that instead of marketing, you know, to China or Brazil, like typically we have for the last 30 years, to bring a sustainable travel blogger and have them travel slowly through the country.

And it reminds me of the slow train in Norway…

Anne-Signe Fagereng: Yeah. 

Rodney Payne: …from way back when. Are you seeing other shifts like that? Are you changing the way you’re communicating?

Anne-Signe Fagereng: Yeah, we also got a new strategy. Well, this year, actually, we’re in the middle of the launch for it. So Visit Oslo is a private company. We’re owned by partners in the visitor sector in Norway. So hotels and restaurants, attractions, airports, transportation companies, and everything.

So we’ve been around for many, many years. But now we say our mission is really to provide access to a more sustainable customer segment. That’s like our main mission. On the one hand, on the other hand, we also want to go into destination management and actually build alliances with the local authority and make them understand how tourism can also contribute to a more sustainable future. Because that’s not been so strong on the local level. 

But to go back to the marketing bit, so we have really sort of defined, so what’s the ideal visitor we’re looking for. So have these criteria. Ideally, it’s a conscious traveler, like the Copenhagen influencer that is making conscious choices while getting to Norway and spending time in Oslo.

Secondly, we want that visitor to be willing and able to actually spend money on local culture, local food, local accommodation, everything like that. Because that’s part of the whole sustainability picture. Third, we’d rather have a visitor that comes to us in the winter or late autumn, when it’s, like, out of season. Because Oslo is also a seasonal destination. And then, of course, also, it’s better to have a visitor who’s able to come to us with a low-emission transport mode. So that’s the ideal visitor that can tick off on all those boxes, of course. But when we have four of them, we can say, well, if you come with a higher emission, we’re only interested if you tick off really well on all these other criteria.

So it’s really guiding the way that we are creating our marketing strategies and campaigns and who we’re looking to target. So that’s one thing. But we in Visit Oslo, we’re marketing Oslo, but we’re also, doing hospitality in Oslo. So one thing is, who are we targeting? Who do we want to come?

But the people who come, whether they’re there because we market it to them or not, we also want to influence them in making sustainable choices while they’re in Oslo. So there we go more for the sort of nudging strategy. 

We are in our tourist information office or our website that has a lot of traffic. We try and make it really easy to make sustainable choices, not by saying you should do this. We’re not really using the moral imperative so much there, but to just giving them the greener or the more sustainable options. Like it is actually better in Oslo also to travel by public transport, for example, so that’s what we’re encouraging them to do, and that’s really the option we’re giving them, and that goes for, where do they shop, how do they eat, how do they, what kind of activities do they do while they’re in Oslo.

Rodney Payne: It’s incredibly refreshing to hear you talk. Where do you think the ambition or political will came to be so bold? Why go quicker than you need to?

Anne-Signe Fagereng: That’s a good question. But trying to look at it in a really, really big picture, I think Norway having, like the social democratic context, it’s a very prosperous country because we have been blessed with natural resources, oil and fish and all that. It’s like, how are we going to keep up that prosperity in the future? It’s obvious that is not going to serve us for the next 20 years in the way it’s done. And we also have to do something for the sustainable future. Everyone’s done that. And we’re also then in a position where the economy has gone really well, because of those factor I mentioned. So we’re in a position to really do it. So it is really a responsibility.

And then, oslo has been really leading, because we’ve had that position in Norway of being really the only big city. And some of those things that need to be happening in that green shift, you do need a city, you do need innovation, and that’s kind of hard to do in very scattered places. So we try to mobilize in Oslo. And that’s why we also sort of built new alliances. And who else have real interest in the brand of Oslo getting stronger? And that’s actors like the Oslo Region Alliance and the Oslo business region. They need to get investment technology, talent, talent attraction. It’s such a small country now. It’s only 5 million people. We need people to come and contribute to a sustainable future as well.

And by working together with them, they’re not really that concerned about Oslo as a tourist destination, but to get the talent, to get the technology, to get the investments, we kind of need many of the same things, really. So working together has also let us make leaps in that direction, I think. 

Rodney Payne: What advice do you have for other people embarking on a journey of understanding around the intersection of travel and environment in, in other destinations around the world?

Based on your experience and people who may or may not be thinking about climate or decarbonization.

Anne-Signe Fagereng: To get them to think about it, you mean?

Rodney Payne: Yeah, what advice do you have for people who may not be thinking about it or maybe uncertain what to do?

Anne-Signe Fagereng: Well, it’s hard for me to think that anyone working in like travel and tourism are not thinking about it, because that’s, we’re so, like, dependent on it going forward.

So one thing is to be thinking about it, but in order to start doing something, it’s a fact that as a destination marketing organization, for example, or DMO, it’s like, you have limited resources. You have a lot of stakeholders that you have to please and balance against each other. 

So I think to actually make an impact, the one thing that you really have to start to do is to start building alliances. As I said before, who else have got a stake in your city or your destination strengthening its brand? And that’s probably coupled very closely to sustainability. And I also think, like, for example, our most commercial stakeholders, like hotels, for example, we have a lot of hotels popping up in Oslo lately.

You think, so, that’s not really sustainable. That has to, but they are so used to thinking really long term, and thinking long term because they’re not going to get their investment back for many years, because it’s expensive to build new hotels and they’re all very nice and fancy. So they know all about how they have to think really long term to get their investment back.

And then they also have to think sustainability. And I think they’ve come really far on that. With that perspective and the branding perspective and also bringing in the local authorities or the national government, if you get like everyone to see how their interests are overlapping, I think it’s like, it’s almost a given. And it’s easy to get in the right direction, but really need to, to join forces.

Rodney Payne: Thank you for taking some time to sit down with me. And thank you for the example that Oslo is giving the rest of the world to follow. 

Anne-Signe Fagereng: Thanks for having me. 

David Archer: This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think. And you just heard from Anne-Signe Fagereng, Director of Marketing at VisitOSLO. We’ll include links to more resources on the blog for this episode at This episode has been produced and has theme music composed by me, David Archer.

Katie Shriner, Lindsay Payne, and Annika Rautiola provided production support. We would like to thank City Destinations Alliance for making this interview possible at their conference in Bulgaria. You can help more people find this show by subscribing and by leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

See you next time. 


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You’ve found your partner for destination marketing

We work with the most innovative tourism boards in the world to create a vision for each of their destinations, solve business challenges and execute brilliant, integrated campaigns. The expertise we apply to that work is shared in the articles published here and in our DMO Matters newsletter.

Get must-read updates delivered weekly!

Sign up to have our must-read weekly digest of leading destination marketing trends and innovation delivered directly to your inbox.

Fields marked with an * are required.


Thank you! You will receive an email to confirm your subscription.

Share This