The cruise industry is good for Greenland. But it could be better | Polarjournal
A sustainable approach to cruise tourism could generate income, jobs and training opportunities, without causing friction with residents (Photo: MSC Cruises)

In a new report about the cruise industry, Greenland’s national tourism office draws a picture that suggests residents widely prefer cruise-ship passengers, and that companies would be willing to pay higher visitor fees — if the money goes back into the local tourism industry

In the 1980s, when cruise-ship operators began adding Greenland to their itineraries, passengers were few and far between. Today, they number more than 40,000 a year, and cruise ships deliver half of the country’s visitors. A recent report suggests that, contrary to popular belief, they make a significant contribution to the economy, but that the industry could be contributing even more.

The report was commissioned by Visit Greenland and is based on a survey undertaken last autumn. Among its findings are that Greenland could be charging cruise ships much more to land, and that the quality of port and reception facilities ought to be improved.

“The aim of the study was to map and shed light on the challenges and potentials of the Greenlandic cruise industry in order to help us understand the industry better and enhance the region’s sustainable development,” said Anne Nivíka Grødem, the director of Visit Greenland.

A port fee introduced in 2016 assesses ships 1.10 kroner (€0.15) per gross ton. In 2022, this generated 7.5 million kroner. It replaced a passenger tax that had been introduced in 2003 that, at 525 kroner per head, was considered the highest in the world and was probably why passenger numbers declined between 2010 and 2014.

Cruise ships started adding Greenland to their itineraries in the 1980s. The number of passengers has grown steadily and now accounts for half of the tourists visiting Greenland each year. A record 46,633 passengers visited the country of 56,000 in 2019 (Illustration: Kalaallit Nunaanni Naatsorsueqqissaartarfik)

The port tax, on the other hand, has meant savings for ships, with the largest ships saving most. In some cases, big ships are paying 93% less than they would have, had they been assessed a passenger tax. This makes Greenland two to three times less expensive than other Arctic destinations for ships to call on.

Cruise companies, according to the report, say they would be willing to pay more to visit Greenland if the additional funding went to improve port facilities or the destinations the ships call on. Many ports and destinations lack infrastructure and oftentimes even basic amenities such as public toilets, and this has been known to lead to conflicts with residents.

Higher fees could generate the revenue needed to build out tourism infrastructure, and to create jobs and fund training programmes. An environmental component would be a way to make cruise-ship owners pay for the pollution they and their passengers leave behind.

The survey showed that businesses have differing perceptions of conventional and expedition cruise ships. Some prefer the larger vessels (typically 1,200 passengers or more), since they are a more concentrated revenue opportunity. However, they require significant infrastructure, and Greenland is often only one stopover among others.

Expedition ships, on the other hand, come expressly to visit Greenland. This means they stay longer, consume more local products and show greater respect for the communities they visit. One drawback of this sort of ship is that their itineraries often include landings in uninhabited areas or nature reserves, where their activities go unmonitored.

Welcoming, but within limits

In general, tourism is perceived positively by the people of Greenland. In the survey of more than 2,000 people carried out in October, 93% said they were in favour of tourism, and 78.4% favoured cruise tourism, believing that cruise industry contributes to the economy.

Successive tourism strategies have made it clear that Greenland hopes to avoid the example set by neighbouring Iceland, which struggled to come to terms with the astronomical rise in the number of people visiting. Limiting the number of ships to one per day, and the number of guests to 1,000, would be one way of keeping Greenland from becoming overcrowded that would have a noticeable effect; at the peak of the season in 2022, Ilulissat, Greenland’s most popular tourism destination, saw 6,000 passengers come ashore in a single day.

En kortlægning af den grønlandske krydstogtindustri (in Danish only)

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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