Tourism grew steadily prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and is an important contributor to the Swedish economy and labour market. Tourism’s direct share of the Swedish economy had been relatively stable at around 2.6% of GDP, but dropped to 1.7% in 2020, with a small increase in 2021 to 1.9%. On average,101 000 people were employed in tourism in 2021, equating to 94 303 full-time jobs. This was 1  590 people fewer than in 2019.

Sweden registered 43.3 million tourist nights in 2020, a decline of 36% from 2019. International nights fell by 70% to 5.2 million nights, while domestic nights decreased by 24% to 38.1 million nights. In 2021, international nights increased to 7.3 million, a 40% increase compared to 2020.

Domestic nights increased by 23% to 46.9 million nights in 2021, only 5.8% below 2019. During the pandemic, domestic tourism in Sweden increased, especially in rural areas. In 2021, 86% of total tourist nights were domestic, up from 74% in 2019.

Total tourism expenditure in 2021 was SEK 249 billion, an increase of 18% compared to 2020. International tourism had a turnover of SEK 57 billion in 2021, representing 23% of total expenditure. Germany became the largest international market, overtaking Norway, with almost 1.7 million nights in 2021.

The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, Tillväxtverket, is responsible for developing tourism at the national level. Visit Sweden, fully owned by the government, markets Sweden as a tourist destination internationally. Both organisations report to the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation.

Tillväxtverket develops, implements, and supports knowledge-based initiatives and activities to promote tourism sector development and entrepreneurship. The Agency is also responsible for official tourism statistics and the production and dissemination of knowledge on tourism and its effects on the Swedish economy. It collaborates with other government agencies related to tourism.

Tillväxtverket is based in Stockholm but has a regional structure. During the pandemic, the agency focused on activities related to COVID-19, supporting stakeholders with statistics, knowledge and activities, including financing for projects and business development. Visit Sweden’s task was extended during the pandemic to include domestic marketing focusing on sustainable nature tourism.

Sweden has set up a regional tourism network in regions which do not have a destination management organisation. The network is an important tool for communication and collaboration with industry organisations and national stakeholders. Recently, the work has been developed to include knowledge development activities within a few prioritised areas. The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) is an umbrella organisation for local and regional authorities. An increasing number of municipalities, county councils and regions work actively to support tourism. SALAR offers them support and services through networking platforms, knowledge reports, and conferences, among other activities.

The Council for the Promotion of Sweden works on promoting Sweden abroad. Council members are comprised of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, the Ministry of Culture, the Swedish Institute, Business Sweden and Visit Sweden. Sweden is also part of the Nordic tourism collaboration under the auspices of The Nordic Council of Ministers, which is in a phase of active policy, strategy, and implementation work.

In 2021, Tillväxtverket’s budget allocation for tourism was approximately SEK 100 million. The 2022 budget is on the same level. Visit Sweden’s budget allocation is SEK 105 million per year, with an additional SEK 20 million in 2021 for domestic marketing. There are also relatively large resources for tourism projects allocated through regional and EU funds.

Work on developing a ten-year National Tourism Strategy, and the strategies for sustainable tourism and a growing tourism industry, has included co-operation between the Ministries of Enterprise and Innovation, Environment, Infrastructure, Culture, Education, Labour, Foreign Affairs and Finance, and co-operation with industry stakeholders.

The Strategy, launched in 2021, is based upon a national tourism policy review from 2017 and the results of extensive consultation open to all stakeholders. It covers the following strategic areas: easier entrepreneurship, jobs and skills, knowledge and innovation, accessibility, and marketing and communication. The strategy also includes horizontal perspectives of sustainability, digitalisation, place-based development and collaboration.

The multi-policy area approach is key in the Strategy, and there is a strong focus on sustainable development. The Strategy supports the national tourism policy goal: to have sustainable tourism, with a sustainable and competitive tourism sector that grows and contributes to employment and attractive locations for visitors, residents, companies and investments nationwide.

The Strategy sums up the desired situation for Swedish tourism in ten years’ time in each of the above-listed areas. It is also designed to support Agenda 2030, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and climate policy objectives. Since the tourism industry comprises several different sectors and is so closely connected to many different public and non-profit stakeholders, a transformation into a competitive, fossil-free, and circular economy needs to involve a broad range of actors within different policy areas and in different parts of the system.

Sweden also developed a methodology for tourism development of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which resulted in a manual for sustainable tourism development in World Heritages and cultural environments published in 2021 (see box below).

Several areas in the strategy have arisen as a high priority by the sector in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. One is skills and the supply of competencies. There is an increasing challenge in finding staff, particularly in the hospitality sector. Another area is transportation and accessibility, which is a challenge not least due to Sweden’s geographical location and the fact that many tourist resorts are located in rural areas, but also given the green transition of the transport sector.

To strengthen its long-term focus, Tillväxtverket is developing a five-year strategic plan anchored in the national strategy and other steering documents, which includes initiatives for enterprises and direct business support.

The strategic plan also includes developing long-term national knowledge support for the tourism sector, such as a digital knowledge bank; quality assurance and delivery of statistics and analysis; follow-up of the pandemic’s short- and long-term effects; and advanced knowledge on sustainable tourism. Place-based development is another element, focusing on synergies between policy areas and different parts of the local planning system.

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