OVERTOURISM IS OFTEN MISUNDERSTOOD
Overtourism is one of the biggest concerns regarding growth in the tourism sector. Iceland experienced this in the first years of its tourism boom. The most interesting, and often misunderstood, thing about overtourism is that it generally does not occur because there are too many tourists on a national scale, but because tourists clump together regionally when destinations, such as Iceland was, are not prepared to receive them and to distribute them around the country. That’s why overtourism was a much bigger issue in Iceland when there were just over a million tourists, than they were just before Covid hit with twice as many. The infrastructure had caught up with the number of tourists. There is enough space in Iceland, even though the island is only a quarter of the size of the ice-free part of Greenland, so it is simply about tourists being distributed properly. If we want to avoid falling into the same traps in Greenland, it is therefore crucial that we develop the infrastructure quickly and thoroughly enough – not only with the airports, but also with investments in hotels, experiences, trails and marked routes, product development as well as the training of our local talents, including in language skills and service-oriented thinking. We must create sustainable growth, not only in relation to the fragile nature, but also in relation to the sensitive settlements and the Greenlandic labour market.
We should prepare for a growth of 25% per year from 2023 – not necessarily because this should be the goal – but because we will be able to manage a growth of 20%, if we prepare for a growth of 25%. We cannot do this if we only prepare for a growth of 5%. A new cruise line, airline or even simply a new air route – if, for example, Air Greenland starts direct flights to the US or to Canada – can mean a growth of 10-20% in one jump. It does not take many individuals to create significant growth, if we are starting with the number of tourists that we have right now. It is also much easier to attract investors to build the missing infrastructure in places where we see a growth of 20-25%, than it is with 3-5% growth. It is therefore important that all relevant actors – the government and ministries, as well as municipalities and the industry itself – ensure that there is investment in this development – of course through marketing, but also through education, innovation and local infrastructure.
In order to better manage growth, we also need to steer it as much as we can. The destinations that are already struggling with potential overtourism still market themselves, but with a focus on spreading the amount of guests both over the year and across the region, to avoid the tipping point. This means that we must increase winter tourism and tourism during the shoulder seasons so that all the infrastructure that exists is better utilised. At the same time, we must develop the different regional destinations and emphasise the strengths and specialties that each destination has. This requires targeted, strategic and well-thought-out marketing and branding work.
IT IS NOW
Now is the time for us to start preparing. We need to calculate different scenarios within tourism for the next ten years and ensure that we are always one step ahead of developments. In this way, we will ensure the best results for the tourism industry in Greenland, for investors and the local population. As an example, it was a strong strategy which ensured that tourism grew from approx. 150,000 to 300,000 arrivals per year in just three years, when a new airport was built in the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. The same thing happened in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe with a new airport. But this growth does not come by itself. The important thing is that we lead the growth ourselves, control which guests come (and when and where they come) through targeted marketing, and ensure that our product range and infrastructure is ready to receive these guests. In this way, we can best handle growth without the threat of growing pains.
Greenland is a unique destination with huge potential for tourism and the associated jobs and economic development. With the establishment of the new airports, the next few years will be crucial to Greenland’s success in defining itself as one of the world’s most exciting and sustainable adventure destinations. We must strengthen Greenland’s image as a sustainable country – an image that not only benefits the travel industry, but also the export of fish, shrimp, skins, design and other Greenlandic products. There is a strong team of specialists within Visit Greenland who are already working on the case, and I look forward to talking to the industry about how we can best develop Greenland in the future.