Besides Svalbard, Greenland was the main destination for Arctic tourism last season, This also because numerous expedition ships had to quickly change their schedules due to the war in Ukraine and the subsequent closure of the Russian Arctic. But the trend to visit Greenland with cruise ships has been on the rise for quite some time, even for classic cruise companies. This branch of the cruise industry will probably have to dress even warmer in the future, because after Svalbard, the support in Greenland is now also getting smaller.
Greenland’s tourism leader, Visit Greenland, has decided to stop providing support for conventional cruises in Greenland in the future, according to its own press release. This is being done as part of its strategy “Towards more tourism 2021 – 2024”, explained the head of Visit Greenland, Anne Nivíka Grødem. This means that in the future the company will no longer provide resources for the marketing of conventional cruises, nor will it participate in any trade shows or exhibitions of this branch of the cruise industry.
The decision against the conventional cruise industry is based on a 2019 report by the Association of Expedition Cruise Operators AECO, which had shown that compared to expedition cruises, conventional cruises are less sustainable in many areas. Especially in terms of revenue for the destinations, expedition cruises are much more lucrative than conventional cruises, it says. It is true that conventional cruise ships would bring more passengers per ship to the places. But these passengers spend less, but logistically incur more costs and usually pose a challenge to infrastructures that is almost impossible to overcome. Visit Greenland highlights health and transport structures in particular. “In Svalbard, the total cruise industry revenue in 2018 was 10.5 million euros (NOK 109.5 million), of which 66.7 percent came from expedition cruises and 33.3 percent from conventional cruises,” Visit Greenland quotes from the report. Tourists from expedition ships also spend more than 5 times the amount of traditional ship passengers in the villages, according to the report.
Another aspect that Visit Greenland sees as a reason for its decision is the fact that expedition ships are better suited for cruising in its waters. Here, too, reference is made to the AECO report and experience. Many classic cruise ships are not suitable for the Arctic challenges and pose a huge safety risk to people and the environment. In addition, any search and rescue missions in the event of possible accidents involving such vessels are also very risky. Therefore, Visit Greenland continues to focus more on expedition cruise tourism in the future and now wants to start an initiative together with political partners and stakeholders at all levels, which in the end will include recommendations to the government for the development of real sustainable tourism. “There are many different opinions about cruise tourism, and we at Visit Greenland fully acknowledge the different perspectives,” explains Anne Nivíka Grødem. ” We want to understand the local challenges and potentials better, which is why we are launching an inclusive process in collaboration with the Greenlandic cruise operators, the authorities, the local tourism and business councils and other stakeholders.”
Visit Greenlands decision is likely to be another blow to the classic cruise industry. This is because the industry, which has already suffered massively from the COVID pandemic and is only slowly recovering from it, is no longer a welcome guest in Svalbard either. The Norwegian government has introduced a law that plans to limit the number of passengers on board ships that are allowed to call at Svalbard to 500 – 750 persons, and a maximum of 200 guests for landings in protected areas. If this bill passes, it would go into effect as early as 2024 or no later than 2025. And many shipping companies are already thinking about these years with their planning. At a meeting in Longyearbyen, representatives of the different branches of the industry (expedition and classic cruises, tourism representatives) had exchanged views and hoped for help from Visit Svalbard, the local tourism board. But on the one hand, the industry representative’s hands are tied because the law is already being discussed and decided in Oslo. In addition, its strategy until 2030 is to give preference to guests with the lowest possible footprint and the greatest possible value creation. Thus, because the sustainability criteria for the expedition and classic cruise sectors are measured separately, the gates to the Arctic are likely to close further for large ships.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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