Coping with an influx of 100 camera-toting visitors in a community of 400 to 500 people over just a few hours can be challenging.
But attracting such guests is exactly what the Nunavut government is trying to do.
In late June the territorial government announced three funding programs to help build the industry and support communities. The programs will subsidize cultural events, tours or art-and-craft fairs offered in conjunction with cruise-ship visits.
“The purpose is to help the communities become more economically active, productive and self-reliant,” said Peter Taptuna, Nunavut’s economic development minister.
Colleen Dupuis, CEO of Nunavut Tourism, added, “It must done in a way that protects the communities. The industry must work for the communities.”
To ensure that cruise ship visits are sensitive to locals and their culture, the government is preparing policies and a code of conduct, which will be finalized in 2012.
Cruise ships offer one of the few ways to experience this remote, inaccessible land of icebergs, bowhead whales, polar bears, midnight sun and rich Inuit culture. And Nunavut appears to be developing this ecotourism opportunity responsibly.
“It’s a shame most Canadians never experience the Arctic. It has wonderful scenery, wonderful wildlife and wonderful people,” said Bill Davis, vice-president of Quark Expeditions and a 17-year veteran of the north. Happily, visiting the Territory of Nunavut, which encompasses most of northeast Canada, has become easier courtesy of a growing cruise-ship industry.
Cruise-ship tours of the Arctic started in 1984 and have thrived thanks to global warming, which is making the region more ice free and accessible, and to an aging demographic down south who have the resources, time and interest for these northern expeditions. In 2007, 23 cruises, run by six companies, brought approximately 2,100 visitors to Nunavut. Hit by the recession, the territory has seen the numbers fall, but they are still robust. This year, different ships will visit 12 communities, including Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Pangnirtung and Pond Inlet. Adventure Canada, the largest cruise operator, reports that tour sales are growing again.
The ships, which stop at each community for four to five hours, are much smaller than traditional cruise ships, carry about 100 passengers and are built to withstand ice. Cruises take place in August and September, and the communities, which issue permits allowing the visits, may conduct welcoming ceremonies, give the visitors town tours, hold cultural presentations to showcase throat singing, drum dances and Inuit games, and feature local art and textiles. Hiking, archaeological visits and kayaking are also organized.
“I love the [Inuit] communities,” said Rebecca Burgum of Adventure Canada, one of the cruise operators. “They are far friendlier than in the south. Children rush out to meet you. People invite you into their homes and offer you tea and local food like seal, narwhal and caribou.”