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Wool Heritage Route (Nordhordland)

Strengthening cooperation in the tourism sector

Nordhordland is located in the middle of the Norwegian Fjord Country and close to one of the largest tourist destinations in Norway, Bergen. Surprisingly there are few visitors to the area – be that because of the proximity to larger and more attractive competitors, lack of professional marketing or simply because there is little or no tradition for exploring the tourism market. Nordhordland wanted to use the SHAPE project both to strengthen the cooperation between the players in the tourism sector in the region and to develop new tourism activities. Making the activities sustainable, building on traditional culture and values, has been a central premise for the work.

Nordhordland do have a well-functioning infrastructure for visitor experiences. There is some good quality, medium-sized hotels, several B&Bs, guest houses, holiday cottages and traditional farmhouses for rent. But until now, the largest market for these have been the many that come to the region to work at busy periods in the petroleum industry. As this industry is declining, the accommodation providers need to find new markets.

The region also has around 7,500 privately owned cottages and holiday homes.  Most weekends and during the holidays, these will be filled with visitors – many from the nearby town of Bergen. The potential for developing experiences for this market is substantial.

And the region has a lot to offer. There are tall mountains, deep fjords, lakes and rivers, and a plethora of islands dotted with small villages. The coast offers unspoiled beaches and cliffs and the ocean has some of the best sport fishing in Europe. There are also lots of cultural activities, many built on the traditions of the Nordhordland region – small museums, open farms, archaeological sites and walking routes.

What the region offers is also what many visitors to Western Norway are searching for. Surveys shows that the typical visitor to Norway wants to be active, avoid the tourist crowds and explore wilderness and ‘real life’ in Norway. There are therefore great opportunities in further developing the tourism industry and attracting more visitors. The challenge has been to do this in a manageable and sustainable way in order to meet the needs of the tourists while considering the wishes of the local population, respecting their culture and traditions. The SHAPE project has helped us do that.


Developing the SHAPE project

Stakeholder engagement and participation has been important throughout the project and has led to a gradual change from the initial goals to where we are today. Initially we gathered about thirty participants, all actively engaged in developing tourism in Nordhordland, to an extended workshop. It was important to reach out, not only to the well-established in the market, but also to people wanting to develop new attractions. Representatives from regional tourism organisations also participated. This turned out to be important for the future progress of the SHAPE project in Nordhordland.

The objective of the workshop was to clarify the scope and the ambition of the SHAPE project and to outline potential activities.  The first session focused on existing networks and on collaboration between businesses. Where have they succeeded and what are the challenges that they experience? We then went on to mapping assets for sustainable tourism. Divided into 5 groups, the participants mapped infrastructure and natural and cultural assets.

Nordhordland has nine municipalities and all of them were represented at the meeting. When each group presented their work and thoughts it became very clear that there is a huge amount of information and that we needed to decide what areas we would focus on. We decided on two concrete activities.

One was developing a digital map facilitating dissemination of information about all the tourism providers in the area. Having explored different possibilities of doing that using a variety of mapping tools, we in the end decided to cooperate with Visit Bergen and use their systems for distribution of information. Although other systems may work better on a local level, we believe it is better for visitors to Western Norway to relate to one central source of information. Visit Bergen is currently developing a digital map with information about tourism providers and activities in the whole region.

Our second project was developing a cultural route based on the traditional and modern use of wool. The project is built on an existing network and on existing activities, such as the yearly “Wool week”, but expanded and strengthened this with new providers and a better framework. This project is described in detail below.

Throughout the SHAPE project we have had close connections with our stakeholders. We have visited other providers of similar services – such as a study trip to Shetland to learn how the Shetland Wool Week has been of importance to small wool- and textile businesses and for tourism. Some of our stakeholders have also taken part in some of the SHAPE learning journeys. Their feedback has been important for the development of our activities.

At the same time as the SHAPE project started, all the municipalities in Nordhordland just had become a member of Fjord Norway’s largest destination company, Visit Bergen. Visit Bergen very soon became the most important collaboration partner to develop the wool route and through them we were able to widen our group of stakeholders connected to the wool traditions and make sure that we had ‘all onboard’.


The Wool Heritage Route

Nordhordland is a core area for wool production, and the traditions are very much alive. There are farms raising sheep and cutting wool, museums and visitor centres dedicated to traditional textile production, workshops and small-scale industry colouring and spinning yarn as well as both traditional and modern producers of woollen garments.

Each of these have for many years received visitors, and there has been some cooperation, especially in connection with a yearly wool festival “The Nordhordland Wool Week”. But there was no formal network and no tools for common marketing. Having explored different possibilities for doing this, we finally decided to develop a “cultural route” trying to attract visitors to the region but giving them the possibility to choose from a smorgasbord of different experiences. A lot of effort has gone into developing this, finding the right concept, deciding on marketing channels, developing a common brochure – and getting as many as possible involved. Working on such a concrete activity has had many benefits. Everybody involved saw the potential and the usefulness of this both for the region as a whole and for each provider. Working on the project also strengthened the participants’ own understanding and appreciation for the culture and traditions in the region. Not least – working on The Wool Heritage Route (WHR) has contributed to develop the network between the different provides. We are confident that this network will continue to grow in the years to come.

Here is a brief summary of The Wool Heritage Route in its present form:

The WHR takes you through beautiful rural landscapes to The Norwegian Knitting Industry Museum in Salhus. Continue to one of the few wool-factories left at Hillesvåg wool factory were the 4th generation owner proudly guides you through 120 years of history where machines that are over 100 years old still produce good quality wool. At the Heathland Centre at Lygra, you can learn how the cultural landscape develops and take a nature-walk were you most probably will meet the Norwegian “wild sheep” living outdoors year-round. Go to Gripen Farm – a typical farm at the western part of Norway, smallscaled, authentic and driven with love to the animals and the landscape. You are welcome to stay the night at Lygra Guesthouse, Alver Hotel or at Gripen Farm, a typical small Norwegian sheep-farm.

…and don’t forget to bring home a genuine handmade Norwegian woollen sweater!

Link to brochure 

The Nordhordland Wool Heritage Route

Photo: Nils Olav Mevatne

The Wool Heritage Route brochure was launched in June and  is distributed by Visit Bergen at many central locations in town (such as the tourist information) and in Nordhordland. The feed-back both from visitors and from the tourism providers are very positive. Our stakeholders are eager to develope this further. The material is currently being updated and we have high expectation for the future.


Climate change and social change – impact on local tourism initiatives

Nordhordland represents the western coast of Norway delineated by the ocean in the west and the tall mountain plateau of central Norway in the east. The area is essentially a northern rainforest and future climate change may have severe impact on the region. There is already an increase in severe weather conditions and flooding has been a problem in many areas. This may not impact tourism directly, since most of the visitors come in the summer, but it underscores the importance of developing sustainable tourism activities in order to help reduce the impact of tourism on nature.

This is especially important because Nordhordland is at the beginning of a transition from an industry based to possibly a more service-based economy. For the time being the petroleum industry is the backbone of the local economy. But as oil and gas is replaced by other sources of energy, this will diminish. It is therefore important for the region to search for new business opportunities. Tourism may become more important in the future, and it is important that it is developed in a sustainable way.

More important in the short term is that fact that during the SHAPE project, in June 2019, the region became a UNESCO Biosphere Area. Developing sustainable tourism will be an important part of the work in the new biosphere.

Nordhordland UNESCO Biosphere Area will be a driving force enabling the region to attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals – ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources and supporting local culture and identity. It is clearly stated that Nordhordland Biosphere will: “help developing a resilient, sustainable tourism industry in the region”


Learning points

The SHAPE project in Nordhordland has been, and will hopefully continue to be, important for the future development of sustainable tourism in the region. We have strengthened the connections between the local players in the tourism market and are developing an infrastructure that connects many of them. We have also learned a lot throughout the process, and would like to share some of our learning points:

  • Stakeholder engagement and participation is crucial. Through the SHAPE project we have built formal and informal connections with our local participants. This has been important for the development of the project, but it has also helped the various players get to know each other and see the potential in future cooperation.
  • Building on existing networks. Throughout the SHAPE project we have actively sought out existing networks and established organizations. Two of them have been especially important, the informal network established between everybody working with traditional textile production, sheep and wool, and the formal network of tourism providers in the Bergen area, Visit Bergen. The support of these networks has been crucial for our success.
  • Being flexible. We have stayed true to our stated goals in the SHAPE project, but the concrete activities are somewhat different from what we originally planned. This came about through input from our stakeholders and we see that as a strength for the project, not as a weakness.
  • Being concrete. In addition to the general networking and developing activities in the SHAPE project, it was important for us that we early on decided to develop one concrete activity – The Wool Heritage Route. This has given the project a focal point, and although many of the other stakeholders do not benefit directly from The WHR, they have learned the importance of this kind of focused systems. Through the work on The WHR, we have strengthened the connection between the many tourism providers in the region.
  • Finding future “owners” to the SHAPE activities. Nordhordland Biosphere Area will be involved in developing sustainable tourism also in the years to come, but we define ourselves more as facilitators and support staff, rather than owners. It was therefore important for us to engage those who will benefit directly from the SHAPE activities in future development and administration.

About Nordhordland UNESCO biosphere:

Nordhordland is a central part of Western Norway – from the coast to the mountains, safely anchored in a culture with roots stretching far back into history, and with a business life that spans from traditional farming and fishing to modern industry, oil and gas, hydroelectric power and aquaculture. The region is placed between Norway’s second largest city, Bergen and the longest and deepest fjord in the country, Sognefjorden.

“Nordhordland Biosphere Reserve will be based on the best from the past and will pave the way for a future-oriented societal development that ensures the sustainable use of all types of resources for the benefit and pleasure of both the present inhabitants and future generations.”

The area of Nordhordland UNESCO Biosphere is approximately 6 700 square kilometres. There are about 55 000 people are living there in 11 different municipalities. Our goal is to ensure a modern, sustainable development of the region, building a common culture and common functions, and help the region fulfil the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Check out our website for more information: