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Arctic Tourism – some lessons for the Greenlandic South

Guest post by Gestur Hovgaard, Professor at the University of Greenland.

Greenland is not only the largest island in the world, it is also the most sparsely populated country. Today more than 50% of the total population of 56000 live in the five municipal centers of Nuuk, Sisimiut, Ilulissat, Aasiat and Qaqortoq; the capital, Nuuk, has 19000 people. The Greenlandic economy is primarily based on fishing and fish processing, but there is increasing emphasis on developing industry (trade, construction, services), mining for e.g., gold, and rare earth elements and not the least tourism. Although still in its infancy, tourism grew slowly over the past few decades, save for a downturn during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A minor indication of tourism development in Greenland can be seen in Table 1, which includes national and international stays:

                      Source: own table based on numbers from stat.gl

The Arctic in general has attracted great tourist interest, but destinations are unevenly distributed. The major tourist destination of the North, Iceland, had 4,5 million foreign overnight hotels stays in 2018, and 9 million overnight stays in all accommodations land and Greenland (Icelandic Tourist Board, 2019). Greenland is not Iceland and should not be, but the contrast between Greenland and Iceland suggests some possibilities for Greenland (Jóhannesson et.al. 2022).

Tourism in Southern Greenland

South Greenland is Greenland’s smallest municipality in terms of area and population. Today there are about 6700 inhabitants in the region, which is somewhat larger than Denmark, with four smaller towns (Narsassuaq, Narsaq, Qaqortoq and Nanortalik) and 11 settlements. There is a complicated geography, with no roads between towns and villages; the sea is the “highway”, with government providing some aircraft and helicopter connections.

In 2009, the three municipalities in the southern region, Nanortalik, Narsaq and Qaqortoq, were merged into Kommune Kujalleq, with Qaqortoq as the administrative center. The amalgamation was an attempt to use the region’s limited financial and cultural resources more efficiently. Although there is skepticism about the amalgamation, the region has gained Innovation South Greenland (ISG), an organization which serves as a meeting point for business development in the region (https://www.isg.gl/kl/). In the municipality’s planning, the development of tourism into a year-round activity is a central focal point for ISG.

The first organized adventure tourism in South Greenland started back in the early 1970s, and has developed slowly over the years to the current number of operators and destination options (for an overview, see: https://visitsouthgreenland.com/all-adventures-in-south-greenland/). South Greenland has also had development in cruise tourism that roughly follows the pattern in Greenland generally (see Table 2). The Disko Bay area has been particularly important. In 2020 and 2021, no tourist ships arrived, but the expectation is that cruises level will soon resume.

South Greenlandic tourism has been in a positive development in recent years, but was slowed down by Covid-19. As we see in Table 3, South Greenland had a declining relative share of total overnight stays in Greenland, but in fact increased relatively in 2020 and 2021. A probable exSouth Greenlandic tourism has been in a positive development in recent years, but was slowed down by Covid-19. As we see in Table 3, South Greenland had a declining relative share of total overnight stays in Greenland, but in fact increased relatively in 2020 and 2021. A probable explanation is that Covid-19 made South Greenland a popular destination for domestic tourism.

Some lessons for further tourism development

There are many challenges facing Arctic tourism (Rantala 2019). In a Greenlandic context, accessibility is the central parameter for the development of tourism. The planning of three new airports is particularly important. The airports in Nuuk (the capital) and Ilulissat (in the north) are underway, while the airport in South Greenland has not yet begun. At the local level, the formation of the ISG has been an important development. There are also two tourism programs at Campus Kujalleq in Qaqortoq which provide the entire country with new skills for the industry. Further, a short tourist season, and the many tourists with more and bigger cruise–ships will bring, pressure on local communities and the environment. It is also a challenge for the industry that work is seasonal and poorly paid. There is a need for more focus on environmental and social sustainability, both locally and nationally.

References

Icelandic Tourist Board. (2019). Tourism in Iceland in figures. https://www.ferdamalastofa.is/static/files/ferdamalastofa/tolur_utgafur/january-2019.pdf

Jóhannesson, G. T.; Welling, J.; Müller D. K., Lundmark, L., Nilsson, R. O., De la Barre, S., Granås, B., Kvidal-Røvik, T., Rantala, O., Tervo-Kankare, K., Maher, P. (2022). Arctic Tourism in Times of Change. Uncertain Futures – From Overtourism to Re-staring Tourism. Nordic Council of Ministers.

Rantala, O., de la Barre, S., Granås, B., Jóhannesson, G. Þ., Müller, D. K., Saarinen, J., Tervo-Kankare, K., Maher, P., Niska M. (2019). Arctic Tourism in Times of Change – seasonality. TemaNord 2019:528.

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TourNord’s 1st network meeting!

What an exciting week this has been! After so many delays and postponements due to COVID-19, TourNord was finally able to have its first ever network meeting!

From the 22 – 24 of November 2021, Business Academy SouthWest hosted the network meeting in Esbjerg, Denmark, where participants from Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Linnaeus University, University of Turku, University of Greenland and Dania Academy attended.

Serving as a forum for exchanging best practices and experiences for education and knowledge development within Nordic Tourism, the central themes of the network meeting were:

  1. Preparing students and educators in tourism with digital skills & competences
  2. Developing Sustainable Tourism Destinations


Day 1: A day of digital skills & competences

After a warm welcome, TourNord got straight down to business with a presentation from Alice Bank Danielsen from Danish Coastal and Nature Tourism, who gave us a fascinating insight on the schism that exists between educational institutions’ understanding of digital competences in the tourism sector versus the actual reality. She also rounded off by presenting the digital toolbox they have created, to serve as an inspiration and guidance tool for tourism actors in Denmark. This was followed afterwards by a great debate on how we (as educational institutions) can better gear our staff and students to be more prepared for the digital world that is tantamount to succes in modern tourism.

After a quick break, we then went into a brainstorming session on how we could generate a concrete course which would help contribute to the digital competences skill gap in the Nordic tourism sector. Splitting into two groups, we came up with two very different (but equally inspiring) ideas!

One group laid a framework for a completely digital course (geared at both higher education students and the life-long learning adult education sector), which could be completed through a series of achievements and tasks (microcredentials). The course would stand on ‘three digital legs’, focusing on strategy, marketing and operations. The course would be case-based, in order to be context specific for the local partner institutions’ needs and demands.

The second group loved the idea of a digital course, but also saw the need and desire after long COVID-19 lockdowns for students to travel and meet – creating a short and intensive physical course where partner institutions’ students where required to travel to 2-3 partner schools. Students would receive both lecturing and be able to work on local cases with regards to using digital tools to optimize business performances of local tourism actors. Each partner institution has different skills (close ties to practitioners, workshop and creative thinking facilitation, digital skill application, etc.) and would be fine-tuned accordingly.

We plan to further work on these two ideas at our next network meeting!

Innovation Consultant Alice Bank Danielsen presenting.

Day 2: Excursion and Sustainable Tourism Development

Esbjerg is known for being windy (and the odd spot of rain as well!), yet we could not have asked for better weather in late November for our excursion to the Wadden Sea National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The morning started off with a visit to the Wadden Sea Center, where we were introduced to the the park, the relationship between nature and tourism, and how the Wadden Sea was unique in its biodiversity.

We then went on an oyster safari in the Wadden Sea, traversing ca. 2.5km into the ocean during low-tide (our guide informed us that the difference in water level between low and high tide was 1m70!).

Once we reached an oyster reef, our guide showed us how to chuck and eat oysters, all the while informing us about the types of tourists these tours normally get, interesting information about the wildlife (including snails that surf the waves, and white-tailed eagles) and the importance of knowing how to navigate the landscape.

Safely back at the Wadden Sea Center, the TourNord group then held a brainstorming session on future development projects – inspired by the Wadden Sea excursion, sustainable tourism development was the focal point. After a great discussion (where many ideas where generated), we decided that coastal tourism in the Nordics is indeed incredibly unique in the world of tourism (and how to develop it sustainably). We will therefore continue working on developing a project revolving around Nordic Coastal Tourism at our next network meeting in Finland!

Our day ended by passing by Ribe, Denmark’s oldest town, and a well-known tourist destination.

TourNord on an oyster Safari in the Wadden Sea National Park!

Day 3: Sustainable Tourism Development: Academic discussions and practical realities

The final day of the network meeting had a very special guest – Professor of Tourism Janne Liburd from the University of Southern Denmark, and Chairman of the Board for the Wadden Sea National Park. Janne invited us to a scintillating group discussion on understanding collaborative and sustainable tourism development. We were inspired by Janne Liburd’s transformative approach to sustainable tourism development, and we collectively tried to see how we could introduce this paradigm shift of moving tourism as growth-based industry selling a ‘product’, to instead how tourism can be a generator of wellbeing (moving across domains of cultural, economic, and ecological wellbeing). Specifically, how tourism can move from an industry that depletes an area of its resources, to instead to become a holistic part of its habitat – something the UN development goals would definitely adhere to!