Photo: Pia Otte
Photo: Pia Otte

Greenland and its growing tourism – how can it be sustainable?

Last week on 07.05 Ilisimatusarfik together with Ruralis – Institute for Rural and Regional Research (Norway) and Adam Mickiewicz University (Poland) arranged an open dialogue meeting to discuss sustainability challenges and opportunities for increased tourism in Greenland. The meeting took place at Ilisimatusarfik with the option to participate online as well. The room was packed with a wide range of stakeholders from the tourism industry in Greenland from the public and private sector.

Professor Gestur Hovgaard from Ilisimatusarfik opened the meeting by presenting some ongoing research collaborations in the field of tourism and work in progress. Hovgaard is currently leading a proposal on sustainable tourism that will be submitted together with several other partners including Ruralis to the highly competitive NordForsk program on sustainable Arctic. He emphasized a need for building more research competences in Greenland and raised several questions to the audience. Greenland has a small population and Ilisimatusarfik is small and there is a need for more research that is relevant to Greenland and industry partners.

His presentation was followed by a lecture by Magdalena Kugiejko (Adam Mickiewicz University) on increase of tourist traffic on Spitsbergen and its challenges and possibilities for the Arctic region. Tourism on Svalbard is booming. The number of guest nights has been almost doubled between 2007 and 2022. To control this enormous growth the Norwegian government has developed new guidelines for tourism development on Svalbard that will be introduced in 2025. This might be highly relevant for Greenland who is now at the stage of transforming to a major Arctic tourist destination with several new airports that will open by the end of the year.

Hence, there is a need to ensure that these developments will be sustainable in environmental, social and economic terms. The Greenlandic government is currently working on a new Tourism law and the first draft has been sent out for hearing and received high criticism from national and regional tourist operators. The government intends to introduce a law that will require tourist companies to be registered and owned in Greenland. This is to ensure that the profits stay in the country but tourist stakeholders doubt that this is the right way of doing this. They fear that it will prevent external investors, which are needed (see article in Greenlandic newspaper ).

Sustainable tourism event

Photo: Pia Otte

The presentation by Pia Otte from Ruralis connected to this point in the last part of the dialogue seminar. She suggested the idea of a locally crowdfunded sustainability fund that businesses in the meetings, incentives, convention, and exhibition (MICE) sector can pay for to compensate for some of the negative impact when coming to Greenland. With the new airports Greenland is expecting more conferences to be hosted in Nuuk as well. If all these conference organizers contribute with small amounts as part of the conference fee to local Greenlandic projects, they can make a difference for local communities. In a recently started research project LocalArctic, Ruralis will investigate together with Ilisimatusarfik the feasibility of such a business model and potential implementation.

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