Published on Jun 19, 2023
The aim of the conference, which was organised by Visit Greenland, was to kickstart a broader debate on how Greenland’s tourism industry and its local population see the development of tourism. This need should in particular be seen in the light of expectations of an increased influx of tourists in the years ahead as a consequence of new airports in Nuuk, Ilulissat and Qaqortoq, as well as greater cruise ship activity at various places throughout the country.
The conference further builds on the legacy of the 2018 national operator conference, Towards More Tourism (TMT), which for the first time brought together the full spectrum of the tourism industry from all parts of the country to discuss what was needed to strengthen and develop tourism in Greenland.
No more ‘heads on beds’
The title of the second conference – Towards Better Tourism (TBT) – in itself heralds a change in approach to tourism development in Greenland: from a question of quantity – a so-called ‘heads on beds’ understanding of tourism – to a question of quality and a more value-based and reflective understanding of growth.
The conference programme consisted of a mix of political speeches, presentations by key operators such as Air Greenland and Arctic Umiaq Line, inspiration from Iceland, Northern Norway and the Faroe Islands, and input from Visit Greenland with regard to potential guests, how tourism is seen by the locals, and strategic considerations. Facilitating the event was Group NAO, which offers services related to strategic ideas and creative innovation, and which in this case provided insights into global trends within sustainability, local involvement and tourism products of relevance for Greenland as a destination.
What do guests look for?
Many of the contributions from the North Atlantic and further afield suggested that Greenland possesses exactly that which is in great demand – not only unique scenery and culture, but also a broader narrative with local roots which creates the basis for a fulfilling and transformative journey which attracts adventure tourists in particular. At the same time, the contributions also showed that the Arctic region and experiences off the beaten track are currently attracting global attention, the positive effects of which are also being felt by Greenland. It was therefore not the marketing of Greenland or advanced segmentation which received the greatest attention at the conference, as was the case at TMT in 2018, but instead more ‘inward-looking’ points of discussion concerning ownership, capacity, jobs and the value of tourism for the local community and for Greenland as a whole.
What does Greenland want?
Tourism has an effect on the places where it is developed – and in many ways. This can be through the development of infrastructure, new jobs and business development, but also in the form of negative cultural impact, greater congestion, price increases and pressure on shared resources. In order to ensure a desirable and balanced development, it is crucial that as many of the involved citizens and operators are informed, listened to and involved in decisions as to how and in which direction tourism should be developed.
On many levels, tourism is about ownership – more specifically, who owns the boats, sells the guided tours and operates the air routes – but it also concerns ownership in a broader sense with regard to the location, the culture and the narrative concerning the location and its residents. To a great extent, therefore, tourism is based on values – not just economic worth, but also social, cultural and political values.
As Anne Nivíka Grødem, CEO of Visit Greenland, outlined in her opening speech, there wasn’t sufficient room for the 56,609 individuals – Greenland’s population – who in reality should have been sitting at the tables during the conference. Fortunately, the conference is just one of several steps on the way to a more locally rooted tourism strategy with a strong mandate, or so-called ‘Social Licence to Operate’, from the population of Greenland. The dialogue has only just begun!
Not in agreement about everything, but about something
If tourism is developed in an intelligent manner, it can be of benefit to Greenland and the local community. It can contribute to modest improvements in everyday life – more goods on the shelves, more rubbish bins and better signposting – but it will also have long-term effects such as the development of more local products, new opportunities in terms of education and jobs for young people and, more generally, new ways to talk about and see the value in places and cultures.
Tourism’s positive contribution to society requires, however, that tourism-driven development goes hand-in-hand with a continued democratic dialogue. During the course of the conference, tourism operators had the opportunity to kickstart this dialogue with each other through a number of workshops focused on the future, challenges and ‘elephants in the room’. The results revealed, as also expressed by Visit Greenland’s chairperson Anette Lings, that not everyone agrees about everything, but that everyone can agree on something.
From more to better – but how?
This ’something’, about which there was broad agreement at the conference, is about anchoring tourism in Greenland by supporting access, ownership, involvement, development and value creation on Greenland’s terms. At the same time, however, it was also clear that the industry faces challenges with regard to investments, scaling, service, extension of the season and spreading tourism beyond the major towns, in addition to attracting qualified labour.
So how should the Greenlandic tourism industry go about changing its focus from ‘more’ to ‘better’ in a landscape characterised by uncertainty with respect to the future, framework conditions and resources? One of the answers to this difficult question is together. The conference demonstrated, in the same way as it did at the first conference in 2018, that knowledge of each other, mutual learning and inspiration, and not least the development of trust and collaboration contribute to creating greater capacity, better skills and more robustness in the tourism industry.
In 2018, the conference resulted in 11 recommendations being drawn up, which were subsequently incorporated into the national tourism strategy Towards More Tourism for 2020-2023. An update to this strategy is now due, and at the 2023 conference the objective was therefore – based on the recommendations, but also with new wishes, opportunities and challenges in mind – to co-create new beacons for the onward journey. This resulted in a list of nine priorities jointly identified by the industry, and which are now being plotted on the map showing Greenland’s path towards better tourism.