Cruise tourism in the Arctic: Local or global goals?

A new study compares two Arctic cruise destinations – Ísafjörður in Iceland, and Qaqortoq in Greenland – with a focus on how core stakeholders perceive the sustainability of cruise tourism and how power relations in the industrial development between place-bound local stakeholders and global cruise lines are played out?

– We have seen unprecedented growth in cruise tourism in the last decade in many of the more remote Northern destinations in the Nordic countries – with both good and bad impacts. It sets pressure on environmental carrying capacity and social tolerance in smaller communities like Ísafjörður, Iceland and in South Greenland.  A sudden stop of traffic due to Covid-19 will enable decision-makers and stakeholders in the tourism industry to reconsider more sustainable ways of supporting the renaissance of shipborne tourism in the Arctic. The findings of this article may be helpful in paving that trajectory, says Senior Research Fellow Anna Karlsdóttir, who together with Laura James at Aalborg University and Lise Smed Olsen at Oxford Research published a paper Sustainability and cruise tourism in the arctic: stakeholder perspectives from Ísafjörður, Iceland and Qaqortoq, Greenland.

Based on interviews with local stakeholders it seems that the development level of a destination and the relative importance of land-based tourism have an impact on how local actors rate sustainability issues.

-The relative importance shows in Ísafjörður and the Westfjords, as there are an abundance of possibilities to develop soft adventure tourism like hiking, kayaking, slow tourism, agrotourism but due to the growth in cruise calls to the region the capacity has simply not been there. The cruise tourism crowds out other maybe more economically sustainable ways of developing tourism, Karlsdóttir explains.

The study shows that there were differences in the emphasis placed on the environmental, socio-cultural and economic aspects of sustainability in each destination, but also similarities in the perceived trade-offs and competition between the different tourism segments. Common for stakeholders is also that they lack a broader perspective that takes into account other perspectives than their own economic dependence on global cruise lines. The findings suggest that intergovernmental agreements are needed to address regulatory issues and that national coordination may help to improve collaboration between destinations.