Greenland values having local presence wherever possible, but historically, the seasonal nature of tourism up here has made it difficult to attract and keep steady local guides. However, these days tourism is becoming normal dinner conversation, and its value is rising.
The summer and spring tourist seasons are already longer than they were five years ago, plus shoulder season development initiatives are consistently on the agenda. There is also continued growth in tourist arrivals.
Alongside these positive supports, Greenland has been actively boosting the tourism education possibilities in the country. In addition to the long-standing two-and-a-half year Service Economy education at Campus Kujalleq (the school in Qaqortoq), the school now offers both a four-month Arctic Tourist Guide curriculum and a six-month Arctic Adventure Guide curriculum.
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Every half year there are dozens of students starting and graduating from these tourism programs. In total, there are over 70 graduated Arctic Tourist Guides and 19 graduated Arctic Adventure Guides, with more on the way.
We caught up with four new guides, all of whom are at different stages of education or employment. Read below about their first-hand perspectives on the future of tourism in Greenland as well as their experiences studying in their own country.
Lasse: “Tourism has always interested me. I really enjoy helping tourists because they travel to satisfy their own curiosity and to experience Greenland’s beautiful nature and culture – which I myself am just as fascinated by and want to be involved with on a daily basis. Being a guide also gives me a wide perspective because tourists ask questions about those things that I take for granted. At the end of the day, I learn more about my own country, and I cannot get enough of that.”
Arne: “Greenland is one of the most isolated countries in the world, which means only a few people in the world have been able to visit. So for me, guiding is a great opportunity to be able to give them a good time during their visit, and share some bonds that actually become a good friendship.”
Willy: “The future holds an influx of travellers who will come from near and far, and I want to be there to welcome them. The statistics show that the majority of travel companies driving tourism in Greenland are, in fact, foreign. There are so few locally-owned travel companies. I want to be one who represents my own country from within.”
Sikkersoq: “I have been interested in tourism since public school, when I did my internship at Nuuk Tourism back in 2001. When the Adventure Travel Guide program at Campus Kujalleq started, I decided then that I would study tourism seriously and one day start my own company.”
Lasse: “It is really intense, especially as there are a lot of small tests along the way as well as exams. We don’t get that many free days, but at the same time, it is incredibly educational and exciting. We recently went through a course on cultural landscapes to be able to identify and discuss ruins and other heritage elements like myths and religion.
We have also had a section about plants and wildlife so we can tell about the different animals and flowers we come across in the backcountry, as well as what they are typically used for. Another course was about geology so we can discuss what lies beneath Greenland, the ice’s effect on the nature and which minerals can be found here.
Yet another course taught Wilderness First Aid and culminated with a certificate, giving us the knowledge to perform first aid out in the field, far away from any hospital or immediate help. In connection with the introduction to glacier guiding, we had the opportunity to be an assistant glacier guide and practice navigating unknown landscapes.
There we also got the chance to practice safety standards and longer camping trips. Not to mention, we have also had many English classes as well as practice with cultural understanding so we have the ability to tweak and adapt trips and products to various target markets like Germans, Spaniards, Brits, Americans and not least the Chinese.
Now we are in the final stage of taking the test to become Captain so we can sail boats with tourists on board and even start our own sailing companies if we want.”
The program is new, and of course there will come changes and fine-tuning along the way, but overall, they have created a good education. – Willy Phipps
Willy: “I am happy that the Arctic Tourist Guide education is available in Greenland, especially because it taught me about the history, identity and culture of my own country. As a Greenlander, we actually don’t learn that much about ourselves in primary school. I also learned a lot about plants and wildlife, which is good. The program is new, and of course there will come changes and fine-tuning along the way, but overall, they have created a good education.
My criticism, however, is that the education material is primarily focused on West Greenlandic culture. I think East Greenlandic culture is underrepresented in the material, and not just because I am an East Greenlander myself. For example, when I guide it would be great to use the information I have learned in the curriculum, but I lack East Greenlandic stories.”
Sikkersoq: “Yes, I finished the Arctic Tourist Guide education in May 2013 and the Service Economy education in November 2015. Now I’m halfway through the Keilir program and will finish completely in May 2018.
I think it will also be a good idea to cooperate with other countries, like Canada and Iceland have done. – Sikkersoq Hansen
I think Keilir’s program is more developed because it is an international program and of a longer length, while the Arctic Adventure Guide program is highly adapted for Greenland in particular. But I imagine that the Arctic Adventure Guide program will develop further once they get more experience with it. I think it will also be a good idea to cooperate with other countries, like Canada and Iceland have done.”
Sikkersoq: “Yes, that is my plan eventually. But if I have the opportunity to continue to get more experience with glacier guiding here, then I will stay in Iceland for another year. I also have the opportunity to study further in Canada at the Thomson River University, another TRU Adventure Studies school like Keilir. That education lasts anywhere from 1-3 years.”
Willy: “Tourism is certainly progressing in Greenland, of course with variation in different towns and settlements. In Kulusuk, for example, there are now five tourism companies here, and it is a good sign when there are direct flights from Iceland to Kulusuk.
I myself have just started a company entirely on my own, Greenlandic Indigenous Guides, with a focus on day-trip guests travelling from Iceland. The experiences range from a walk to the settlement from the airport, a museum tour and visiting a local home to get a look into typical everyday life in Kulusuk.
I am currently working on getting the word out about my products, and I hope that other stakeholders will help in that process.”
Arne: “The future for tourism in Greenland is always exciting. We are paying attention to other countries’ mistakes and successes so we don’t do the same thing. If politicians could just be more open to ideas, I think tourism could be a lot bigger.”
Sikkersoq: “I think there is a good future in tourism in Greenland because more and more Greenlanders have gotten interested to study tourism and Campus Kujalleq has diversified their education lines to choose between. I have heard more and more youth want to get involved in tourism development in Greenland.”
If politicians could just be more open to ideas, I think tourism could be a lot bigger. – Arne L. Møller
Lasse: “I think without a doubt that we need to get better at developing new products. It is understandably challenging and scary for entrepreneurs to start a company, especially when the first year can be quite unsure. But it takes time for the international agent partners to learn about new products, let alone promote and sell them.
I hope there will come more and more who take the leap. History shows that it always pays off in the end. I believe we can create many more exciting adventure races like the existing Arctic Circle Race and Polar Circle Marathon.
I see a lot of potential in something like a kayaking race from Nuuk to Kapisillit or developing long trekking routes stretching from one town, or settlement, to the next.”