Tourism in the economy

Tourism in Sweden has been growing steadily for the last ten years and is an important contributor to the economy and labour market. The tourism industry had a turnover of SEK 296 billion in 2016, an increase of 6.6% compared to 2015 at current prices, driven mainly by a continuing strong increase in inbound tourism. Inbound tourism generated a turnover of SEK 120 billion in 2016. The three major cities are the fastest growing areas when it comes to commercial guest nights.

With a small domestic market, Sweden is dependent on export markets and income from tourism has continued to grow in relation to Sweden’s total exports. Compared to 2015, the value of tourism exports increased by 12.7% while total exports grew by 1.9%. In 2016, the Swedish tourism industry accounted for 6.2% of the total export value of Swedish goods and services, compared with 3.9% in 2000. Tourism’s share of the Swedish economy remained unchanged at 2.7% of GDP in 2016.

The tourism industry in Sweden employed 170 000 persons in 2016, up 6.9% on 2015. Over the same period, total employment in Sweden increased by 1.7%.

The total number of international commercial guest nights in 2016 was 15.6 million, up 2.8% on 2015, and an increase of 22% from 2012. The main foreign markets remain Norway, Germany and Denmark. The biggest non-European market is the US, followed by China.

Tourism governance and funding

The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, Tillväxtverket, and VisitSweden AB are responsible for developing tourism at the national level and marketing Sweden as a tourist destination internationally. Both organisations report to the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation.

Tillväxtverket develops, implements, and supports knowledge initiatives and activities to promote tourism industry development and entrepreneurship. It is responsible for official tourism statistics and the production and dissemination of knowledge about the development of tourism and its effects on the Swedish economy as well as collaborating with other governmental agencies with responsibilities related to tourism. Tillväxtverket is based in Stockholm but has a regional structure handling issues related to structural funds.

VisitSweden AB is a company jointly owned by the Government and the Swedish tourism industry, represented by Svensk Turism AB. It promotes Sweden as a tourist destination abroad and has offices in several countries. It focuses activities on emerging markets such as India and China, to promote sustainable nature and ecotourism in rural areas and to increase efforts to extend the stay of international visitors.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, the Ministry of Culture, the Swedish Institute, Business Sweden and VisitSweden are members of the Council for the Promotion of Sweden Abroad.

The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) is an umbrella organisation for local and regional authorities. In recent years, SALAR has increased its engagement in tourism through partnerships with industry organisations. Municipalities, county councils and regions are increasingly working together to support tourism. SALAR meets their interest and offers support and services, for example by creating platforms for networking, conferences etc.. In 2016, members were invited to identify tourism issues which they considered of most importance for future development of Swedish tourism.

Also in 2016, the Minister of Enterprise and Innovation established a forum bringing together public and private players in the tourism industry to identify common challenges in order to make a positive contribution to development of the tourism industry.

Sweden: Organisational chart of tourism bodies

Source: OECD, adapted from the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, 2018.

The budget for tourism statistics and development, integrated in the budget for Tillväxtverket, totals around SEK 25 million, excluding special assignments such as the Sustainable Product Programme 2016-19 which has a government budget of SEK 40 million. The annual budget for VisitSweden is about SEK 140 and 120 million for 2016 and 2017 respectively. This sum is matched by industry for marketing campaigns. Resources for tourism projects are also allocated through regional and European Union funds.

Tourism policies and programmes

The Swedish Government has initiated a public consultation on a new coherent national policy for tourism with a cross-sectoral perspective, proposing new structures and actions that will contribute to internationally competitive tourism, sustainable growth, profitable entrepreneurship and employment across the country. Proposals are also sought on strengthening the cross-border tourism offer.

Major challenges for Swedish tourism include skills, connectivity and transport, profitability, destination and product development, seasonality, and sustainability.

Transport is crucial and challenging because of Sweden’s large size, geographical location and small population. These same variables make destination development and profitability particularly challenging in rural areas. In all Swedish regions, access to high speed internet is also an important factor for the industry.

Sweden faces large seasonal variations, with distinct and rather short winter and summer seasons, with great variations within the country. Work is ongoing in practically all Swedish regions to extend the tourism season. A positive outcome for Sweden is that the rapidly growing number of international visitors naturally tends to extend the short summer season, since they take later vacations and have different holiday dates.

In 2012, over 40 regional and local organisations applied to Tillväxtverket to take part in a four year initiative to strengthen and develop sustainable tourism destinations in Sweden. The total budget for the project was EUR 6.4 million, of which around EUR 1 million was allocated to each of five selected regions of Bohuslän, Kiruna, Stockholm Archipelago, Vimmerby and Åre. Destinations initiated activities to prolong the tourist season, improve quality in hosting, develop new and more sustainable products and services, enhance accessibility, and generally improve the destination’s quality and competitiveness (Box 2.2).

The Government asked Tillväxtverket to build on the work of the Sustainable Destination Development Programme through a Sustainable Product Programme. The new programme was launched in 2016 and is due to run until 2019, with seven projects across Sweden focused on cultural and nature tourism.

Tillväxtverket and the Swedish Board of Agriculture are also supporting the work of Svenska Ekoturismföreningen (Swedish Ecotourism Society) to create a strategy for outdoor tourism, which will be presented in December 2017.

Statistical profile

Table 1. Sweden: Domestic, inbound and outbound tourism


Table 2. Sweden: Enterprises and employment in tourism


Table 3. Sweden: Internal tourism consumption
Million SEK