Restarting tourism, responsibly

The past two years have been unreal for all of us in the tourism industry. The pandemic has reduced global travel to virtually nothing, and almost overnight, all bookings disappeared. We were no exception. And to be honest, we don’t really know how long it is going to take for things to recover, for people to start traveling again; to discover new places, learn new things. Restarting tourism is important for the livelihood of many, but it’s challenging.

Plenty of risks left

Styrsö Halsvik

Yes, we are thinking about the war in Ukraine, and the fallout not just for the people directly affected by Russian war atrocities. What are the economic consequences for the rest of the world? What happens to fuel prices will impact prices for airfare, buses & taxis. It will also impact food prices. Then there are the environmental consequences of climate change to be considered. How will this impact the recovery of travel? Finally, how long will the fear of the pandemic keep people from moving freely? There are no definitive answers to all of this.

We are ready, and we are planning

After every sunset, there will be another day dawning!

We are ready to welcome you back to Gothenburg, transporting small groups in our Tesla 3, safely and without impacting the climate negatively. We also work with our partners to make sure your visit to Gothenburg is safe, and we focus more and more on natural sights.

Sadly, there’s not much we can do to impact the world around us, apart from our personal engagement in supporting friends in need. We also donate to worthy causes, like the International Red Cross et al.

Travel is all about meeting people

We have always believed that travel connects people, builds bridges. It is a conviction strongly embedded in everything we do. It is through those meetings we learn about the human condition, what unites us across the planet, rather than what divides us. And we look forward to welcoming you to our city and region to show you the natural beauty of our land, the culinary and cultural delights, and the friendliness of Sweden. Meanwhile, why not follow our new Instagram account, and be inspired by some of the photos we have taken throughout the years?

A safe visit during an enduring pandemic

Two years and counting, the world is in the middle of the biggest wave yet (no numbering as it differs from country to country) of the Covid-19 pandemic. Omicron is the word on everybody’s lips and minds. As a tour guide, and an avid traveler, I have seen firsthand how important it is to stick to protocols and what works to keep guests safe.

Let me state the obvious: tourism here in Gothenburg flatlined these past two years. The only bookings I’ve had were canceled because cruise ships never came or because they only let passengers ashore in what the industry labels “bubbles”. This is funny because they happily break the bubbles as long as the cruise lines supply the guides… I’ve seen this first hand during my own travel.

What can I do to stay safe?

A bleak winter’s sun shining over the Gothenburg archipelago. Photo: private

So how do you stay safe when you travel? It’s actually not rocket science: you behave just as you would back home. You practice physical and social distancing, i.e. you try to meet fewer people than you normally would, and you keep those magic six feet (2m) from others. If you want to be extra safe, wear an N95/FFP2-mask to protect yourself (surgical masks don’t protect you, only others from your droplets.) Wash your hands regularly, and carry hand sanitizer with you, in case you feel the need for a quick rinse and there’s no water. Also, make sure your vaccinations are up to spec, which means two basic shots for most plus a booster.

Covid-19 rapid antigen test

What can I offer as a guide? Well, first of all, I’m vaccinated, and I get my booster today (despite my age, I had to wait as Sweden strictly vaccinates in the order of age/conditions and downward.) I’m also on the cautious side in terms of my personal life. I will happily wear a face mask if you feel safer, and I carry hand sanitizer in the car (if we use mine or a third-party limousine.) I will also test myself before meeting any clients with a rapid test, the results of which I am obviously happy to share. Should the test come back positive, we will obviously cancel the tour at no cost to you.

Why Sweden is “lax” on face masks

Visitors to Sweden remark on the “lax” attitude we have toward face masks. There are several reasons for that. The science of face masks isn’t black or white. Yes, they can make a difference, IF used properly (and that is a big if!) However, most people don’t use them properly. We’ve traveled to several countries with face mask mandates and we see how people use them, again and again (eww!), under the nose, around the chin, etc. Here, our government feels it is safer to stay home with ‘any’ symptom than to leave the house, and the government pays our salaries while we’re home, sick. Few other nations offer that, and I understand that if you have to go to work even when feeling ill, you better wear a mask. Therefore, in a way, our homes are our face masks. We are still asked to wear them in tight spaces, e.g. public transport during rush hour.

View westward towards Vinga Lighthouse, the westernmost point of Gothenburg

A Private Tour is a very safe way to visit our city

With a private guide, visiting Gothenburg during the pandemic is a very safe way to get to know our beautiful town. You don’t need to be around anyone else, ensuring proper social and physical distancing. Knowing my city inside and out, I also know where to go and what situations to avoid in order to provide you with a safe experience. At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide where your comfort zone lies, and I look forward to working with you in preparing for a great visit to our beautiful city and region.

Welcome!

Happy 400th Birthday, Gothenburg!

Dear home town!

Today you celebrate your fourth centennial. That is quite the accomplishment. Now mind you, I realize of course that you are much older than that. We know that settlements along the Göta River date back to the Stone Age. Alas, it wasn’t until June 4th, 1621, that the current installment of Gothenburg actually survived to the modern-day. Every previous attempt at building a city on the mouth of the river was destroyed by our friendly neighbors, the Danes. At the time, they ruled the land south (Halland, Skåne) and north (Bohuslän, Norway.)

Tower of the church named “Masthuggskyrkan” in the foreground and cityscape in the background in Gothenburg, Sweden. View toward the west.

Walking through town, there are reminders everywhere about your third centennial celebration. Oddly, due to “delays” (we Gothenburgers excel at that…), we didn’t really celebrate your birthday until 1923. Funnily, the pandemic and other “delays” force us to delay the fourth centennial celebration, too. Therefore, our amusement park, Liseberg, will unveil a huge expansion, not this year, but in1923, their centennial. Therefore, many of the amazing building plans that were scheduled for this year won’t be done. But we can see them rise and if we grow tired of the hustle and bustle of downtown, your islands, lakes, the ocean, and forests beckon us to relax and recharge our batteries.

Gothenburg city center by night. Construction ongoing for the new city bridge, the new train tunnel and several skyscrapers.

We got a new bridge across the river, and when you go downtown (which we’ve been avoiding during this pandemic, as much as humanly possible) you see construction going on everywhere: skyscrapers, train tunnels, tram tracks, you name it. Gothenburg is rapidly transforming into a 21st-century city, including a building taller than any other in Scandinavia.

Reanimating an old tourist slogan, here’s my greeting to my home town on your big day: Göteborg, we ❤️ you! (Please note this video is 14 years old, at least… LOL)

If you plan to visit Gothenburg, let me know. I’d be happy to show you my home town.

Covid-19: travel safely, travel smartly

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Sandsjöbacka Nature Reserve, just south of Gothenburg

I am an avid traveler myself and I was looking forward to our first trip this past summer. Everything went well and we are looking forward to our next trip and are planning something for Christmas & New Year.

Here’s the thing: if you love traveling, nothing will stop you (short of the travel bans we’ve experienced earlier this year.)

Travel has changed

But even if you love to travel, and I do, things have changed. You can’t just get on a plane and fly off, hoping everything will work out smoothly. You need to plan more and consider a few “what if” scenarios. Example: two days before we were due to fly to Switzerland, our home country of Sweden ended up on their quarantine list. Lucky for us, we flew in before the quarantine was enforced, but it also meant we were unable to leave the country and e.g. zip in and out of Italy (trust me, not easy in a small country like Switzerland.) Worse, in retaliation, the Swedish State Department took Switzerland off the “safe travel” list, which could’ve had serious consequences for us. More on that later.

Flying

Flying is still fun and exciting, even if wearing a mask. Photo: private

Flying has changed a lot. Not so much the experience onboard, but the before. Booking is more flexible, to allow for the uncertainties of travel bans, quarantines, and whatnot. The mask on board is going to be the least of your worries. It’s finding a flight that will reliably take you from A to B and back.

Right now, timetables change on a weekly basis, and if you were used to multiple flights from your airport to a hub, you may be lucky to have one per day. Interconnecting also means a lot more waiting time at airports, sometimes overnight, with all that entails.

Since travel is still down (83% here at the Gothenburg-Landvetter Airport), lounges and a lot of shops and restaurants are still closed. Make sure to fly early enough to account for schedule changes! Especially if you need to be somewhere at a certain time, e.g. a cruise departure.

Hotels

Given the breakdown in travel, hotels are desperate and now’s the time for some great treats. However, while you may get a cheap deal, make sure your hotel is reliable enough to actually still be open when you get there. The longer this pandemic lasts, the bigger the chances that some hotels will not survive. With more than 67% capacity this fall, this is also true for my home town, I’m afraid. Going for a bigger chain with larger financial muscles might provide a bit of reassurance. My tip: don’t pay in advance, but go for a rack rate and pay on site.

Guides, excursions, etc.

We are soon heading out for a cruise and our cruise ship will only allow us to leave the ship with a tour group organized by them. Not my preferred solution (I’m no fan of large groups) but in these circumstances, I think the precaution makes sense. It is to enable what is called a “social bubble” where only vetted (in this case tested) guests are together and do not come in touch with the dangerous outside world.

When you travel on your own, I suggest you create your own family or small group bubble. Make sure your guide is healthy (here in Sweden we follow the guidelines of our FHM, i.e the Swedish equivalent to the ECDC/CDC) and observing local recommendations/laws. The smaller your group is the better. Right now, traveling in larger groups is not advisable, especially not for longer periods of time.

Insurance

The author of this post and owner of Gothenburg Tours

I mentioned the Swedish government’s travel guidelines. We learned upon coming home that our travel insurance had been voided the second Sweden ‘banned’ (i.e. recommended not to travel to) Switzerland. That included both travel and healthcare insurance. Had any family member gotten sick or had anything happened to us, we would’ve had to pay for everything on our own.

To avoid such costly adventures, I warmly recommend you check your insurance coverage and suggest you try and find insurance that also covers you during this pandemic, i.e. if you can find one. Our cruise line offers a package for our coming trip. Check if your airline does or talk to your insurance company. You never know…

Travel is still a lot of fun if you’re prepared!

Gothenburg, while a large city, has much to offer if you stay away from the few crowded areas (railway station, malls, a few downtown streets.) Right now is actually a very good time to travel here because there are so few people here, especially if you enjoy the outdoors. Come back for museums (which are open), concerts and amusement parks next year.

Nothing will stop me from enjoying my travel. But I choose my destinations wisely (i.e. off the beaten track, monitor case prevalence, etc.) and I am prepared as much as I can for the unforeseen.

Hans M Hirschi

Covid-19: We’re still here, so is Gothenburg & Sweden

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These are unprecedented times. A ding-ding world. If anyone had patented these sentences, they’d be rich. Alas, as hollow as they sound, they form the beginning of countless messages from companies, organizations, and governments with regards to covid-19 aka “novel coronavirus” these days. I haven’t written on this blog for a while because we were occupied by other things. However, an email from a potential client got me to think about the future.

The sun rises above Sweden every morning. Luckily for us, some things don’t change.

We’re in hibernation, but everything is still here

I’m not going to comment on Sweden’s strategy fo fight covid-19 or how we’re different. The basic approach is the same in most countries but the tactics differ. We have successfully flattened the infamous curve and our health care system–strained like elsewhere–is coping.

Because we were (legally) unable to completely shut down our country, I would guess that Sweden will be less “damaged” than other economies. While our hotels see the number of occupied beds over at 8-10% and we’ve had ONE flight daily at our international airport for a good six weeks (none domestic), there is hope. Restaurants are open, properly socially distancing (fewer tables, no bar or self-service) and about a month before the summer season kicks off, there is a chance that we can see a slow return to a “new normal”.

Will Sweden be open this summer?

I have no crystal bowl, so please take the following with a scoop of salt, but here are a few things I see:

  • Museums: many are talking about re-opening soon, using different tactics to make sure to keep visitors safe, e.g. limiting the number of visitors, etc.
  • Restaurant: are open
  • Hotels: are open. If travel restrictions ease domestically, we expect a lot of Swedes to vacation domestically this summer
  • Beaches: okay, we’re not Italy or Spain or Florida, but we have beaches and they are public and our local “CDC”, Folkhälsomyndigheten, is going to issue rules on how to sunbathe/swim safely this summer. Social distancing applies.
  • Cruises/tours: Oh my, that’s the difficult one, isn’t it? When will cruises resume? We were scheduled for one in late June and it was canceled, so nobody really knows whey they resume operation and if some countries will apply different rules than others. We simply don’t know yet, but I would assume that things will relax at some point and that visitors will be welcome, given proper social distancing on tour buses, etc.
  • Public transport: open and functioning, but alas, social distancing is paramount and this is the most challenging aspect, as buses, streetcars, and ferries are often tight spaces. Our local boats to the archipelago have limited the number of passengers and tourists risk being stranded as locals and their necessary trips (to work, etc.) are given priority.
  • Trains/flights: Trains have never ceased running, even though their schedules have been greatly reduced. Flights have ceased between major cities but not to the rural areas where they are a vital part of the infrastructure, sustained by government funding. However, we can see a gradual return to normalcy. SAS is once again flying between Stockholm and Gothenburg, and Lufthansa has announced a daily flight between Gothenburg and Frankfurt starting May 18. Please note that things can change quickly and that different airlines apply different rules for flights, for instance regarding face masks.

So what does this mean for a trip to Sweden?

Plenty of space and no one in sight…

If I were wanting to visit Sweden this summer, I would try to wait with any booking. We just don’t know what might happen yet. Our Public Health Agency seems to doubt that we’ll be able to vacation internationally this summer and they are not even sure if domestic vacations will be possible. The Swedish State Department has issued a travel advisory against any foreign travel until June 15. I don’t think we’ll get any updates before that, Depending on how you will travel to come here, you also need to consider any transit countries.

The safest bet is to wait and see. Don’t book quite yet. But rest assured that Sweden is waiting for you in all its beauty and with all the vast open spaces we offer, providing ample opportunities to discover our nature in a safe way even in the future. Whenever we open up for business again, we’ll welcome you with open arms, although we might need to abstain from a warm hug until we have a vaccine against covid-19.

Welcome back then!

Storytelling: the answer to a question I’m asked a lot

Being a tour guide, meeting people all the time, I’m often asked questions…

This has been a busy summer. Lots of tours, lots of guests that I have had the privilege to show around my city and West Sweden. And every time I meet guests, we talk (duh!) And every time, invariably, as we get to know each other, at some point questions will be asked about why I’ve become a tour guide. So here’s the answer: storytelling.

From Training Executive to Author and Tour Guide? How?

Storytelling is an integral part of training, writing, consulting, and being a tour guide.
Storytelling is an integral part of training, writing, consulting, and being a tour guide.

This might feel like a huge stretch, but actually, is not. I like to think of storytelling as the clip that holds it all together. When I first started out as a trainer, telling stories was a way to help me pass on knowledge to my students. Mind you, it is more complex, and I’m simplifying for the sake of this post. Storytelling has always played a major role in training and education.

The same is obviously true for writing books. Books are basically stories, and I won’t lie that I often view my books as lessons to humanity, stories about humankind. From there, the step to touring isn’t long. I love to tell stories about my city, not just about its interesting history. I use stories to explain the sights, anecdotes that can be funny, thought-provoking, etc.

Whether it’s the story about how Gothenburg was founded, the story of how it became the rich city with all the donations from the “founding fathers”, to the story of the challenges we face going forward.

Storytelling and then some…

Storytelling has always been at the core of what I do.
Storytelling has always been at the core of what I do.

Besides, visiting a city, traveling is all about learning. When you book a tour it obviously means you are curious to learn about the place you’re visiting, the people living there, the culture, the food, its history, etc. And storytelling is really the oldest form of learning. It goes back to the very beginnings of humankind. I once explained that in a video for my consulting business, which is yet another way for me to use storytelling to help clients.

Do you have a question for me? Let me know. I’m sure I can weave a little story around it…

What kind of tourist are you?

Whenever I have the pleasure of taking guests to show them my city I wonder: will they be happy to see things from the outside or would they rather go inside? This might sound like a weird question to you, but allow me to explain. One of the most frequent things I do is walking tours. I pick up my guests at their hotel and we go for a walk where I show them the beauty of Gothenburg.

Would you like to go inside?

Would you like to go inside? Is it worth it? Is it even possible?

There are so many great things to see in a city, but when you have a limited amount of time, we tend to simply scratch the surface. We walk past some of the most amazing buildings but don’t go in. We point out “here’s this museum, and this is City Hall, and over there is where the local parliament resides, and it’s a beautiful building.” We never go inside which is a shame.

There are two main reasons why: a) most buildings aren’t open to visitors, which is a shame. Our local stock exchange is one of the most impressive places we have to show, but it’s only open once every blue moon at specific times, which never suits visitors from abroad. I can tell them that their president or prime minister had dinner here with our king, but I can’t show them.

The second reason is time. Even if the building were open, if you have four hours for a walking tour, there’s not time to spend one or two hours in just one building.

You need a reason to come back…

Prosecco on St. Mark's Square and live music at night is one of the "musts" for me in Venice, no matter how many times I return.
Prosecco on St. Mark’s Square and live music at night is one of the “musts” for me in Venice, no matter how many times I return.

This is my MO for every place I visit: I miss something important, simply because I’d like to come back. And on a second visit, I may not have to do the “usual” again, but I can dive deeper. I’ve been to Venice countless times since I was a child, and while I have my “have to’s”, e.g. to drink a glass of Prosecco on St. Mark’s Square after dark and listen to live music, these days, my visits to this amazing city allow me to visit places most first-time visitors don’t see.

As a tour guide here in Gothenburg, I kind of see it as my responsibility to water my guests’ mouths, to make them want to come back for more. It’s a delicate balance and I always make sure to learn about hteir interests ahead of time, to make sure they experience exactly what they want, whether it’s walking past a building or going in (if possible.)

National Geographic wants you to… visit Gothenburg!

I can’t blame them…

Gothenburg is a heavenly destination for foodies. I’ve always known that. Well, maybe it hasn’t always been, but the chefs here in town have a thing or two for fish and seafood and in the past decade or so, plenty of amazing restaurants serve superb food.

I recently came across this article on National Geographic where they point out Gothenburg as a top destination in 2019 to visit if you love food. Who am I to argue with National Geographic?

They particularly point to “Salt & Sill”, a restaurant about 90 minutes north of Gothenburg on the small island of Klädesholmen. I was there just last week and can confirm that it’s still an amazing place. I reviewed it on my TripAdvisor account.

But that’s not the only great place in the region

There are so many more great places to eat, even in the city itself. Some I’ve written about in my DIY-guide which you can purchase right here on the site. But let me just mention one of my personal favorites. Expensive, but amazing food: Sjömagasinet.

I was there last week and the food is superb. Below’s what my dessert looked like. And it was as delicious as it looks. So come visit Gothenburg, from food trucks to the best experimental cuisine, we’ve got you covered!

Amazing strawberry dessert with Swedish “egg-cheese” (ask me for a recipe) and meringues.

Impressions of Gothenburg

Guiding our most valued guests to the West Coast

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This week, my dad is visiting us. I still remember the first time he came to see me here in Sweden. To show him my new home town is always an honor, and slightly scary. Will he approve? We’ve just spent two days on the West Coast, and he liked it, despite the cold and windy weather, something even the best guide isn’t able to influence.

Nobody’s as honest and critical as family

If you think that guiding your family is easier than clients? Think again. And to think you get any favors? No sir. Guiding family (and friends) is not a grateful job, but it provides great opportunities to learn and grow, not to mention test new things, try new restaurants (or make sure known ones are still up to par), etc.

A trip to the West Coast

Dad has been here many times over the years, and yesterday and today, I took him back to some of the places he’d been to before, although it’s been many years. He’d mostly forgotten and this time the weather was better.

We covered Marstrand yesterday, a small island city off the coast about 40′ drive north of Gothenburg, and today we drove even further, although we ended up just a good 15′ boat ride north of Marstrand, on the island of Tjörn and its outlying isles of Klädesholmen, Åstol, and Dyrön.

Good food and amazing nature to round off a successful day

Our first stop for today was Skärhamn, a coastal town on the island of Tjörn. It is famous for it’s arts museum, focusing on aquarelle paintings. But it also sports a beautiful harbor and a smiling church.

After a quick coffee (it was cold) we took the ferry from Rönnäng on a short trip around to Åstol (beautiful on a sunny, calm summer’s day), and Dyrön. Afterward, I drove us back to Klädesholmen for lunch at Salt & Sill. That little islet is famous for herring canneries and boy, their lunch is good. Six varieties of herring as an appetizer, followed by a fish burger with mashed potatoes and pees. Yummy!

Enjoy some pictures of today’s trip:

Practical Information

To visit Marstrand from Gothenburg (incl. Carlsten fortress) you’ll need about five hours, two of which you’ll spend getting to and fro the city. In the summer, with a lot of tourist traffic, you may need to allocate more time as parking is scarce and you may need to walk longer from the parking lots to the ferry.

Tjörn and its islands are also a good hour and fifteen minutes away from Gothenburg, further north, but there’s more time on the freeway, so you cover more ground. Again, summer traffic will add time, particularly as you cross the bridge over to Tjörn. We’ve literally spent hours in queues. Parking is a thing, too and you may need to leave your car up to a kilometer or more from ferries, harbors, etc. The town roads are very narrow and you share the space with walking visitors and locals. Be mindful and patient. Five to six hours is recommended. If you visit Åstol or Dyrön, be mindful of the ferry timetable. Summertime (June-Aug) you might find an open café or restaurant, but off season, expect to eat on Tjörn or simply bring your own lunch.