North­ern re­flec­tions Arc­tic cruise tourism comes of age

Truro Daily News - - CANADA - BY BOB WE­BER

Tourists say the darn­d­est things.

Just ask Anna Aaluq, who’s wait­ing on a peb­bly beach to guide a group of cruise ship pas­sen­gers around her home­town of Gjoa Haven, Nu­navut.

“They ask if we still live in cari­bou-skin tents. They ask if we still live in the wooden cab­ins,” she says, point­ing to the square homes that house nearly ev­ery­one in the town of 1,400 on King Wil­liam Is­land along the North­west Pas­sage. “They are sur­prised we have TV.”

But Aaluq, who’s paid for her ser­vices, is happy to see the vis­i­tors splash­ing onto the beach from the in­flat­able boat that has fer­ried them off Le Bo­real, a French-flagged ship car­ry­ing 166 pas­sen­gers.

“They’re in­ter­ested in our com­mu­nity,” she says. “They ask what is this build­ing or how do you use this type of tool, for ex­am­ple a ko­matik — a snow sled — how we pack it up with our grub if peo­ple want to go camp­ing.

“Some are very nosy. They just want to take pic­tures. Some are very kind.”

Arc­tic cruise tourism has come a long way from its early days.

In the past, tourists would be dumped on shore and left to wan­der about in ham­lets with­out even a cof­fee shop or public bath­rooms. Inuit chil­dren would tag along, pos­ing for pic­tures in ex­change for hand­outs.

Now, cruise ships warn com­mu­ni­ties well in ad­vance of a planned visit. In Gjoa Haven, the tour com­pa­nies pay the town $50 a head.

Pas­sen­gers ar­rive in man­age­able groups. Lo­cal guides show them the sights and an­swer ques­tions. Tourists get a cul­tural pro­gram, as well as a chance to buy art and crafts, and of­ten a meal of coun­try food.

The Nu­navut govern­ment has passed new reg­u­la­tions for cruise ships that are ex­pected to be in ef­fect for next year.

Cruise op­er­a­tors could be re­quired to file economic ben­e­fit re­ports, to limit the num­ber of pas­sen­gers dis­em­bark­ing at any one time, to no­tify com­mu­ni­ties within a cer­tain time if a ship’s sched­ule changed and to dis­trib­ute vis­i­tor guide­lines to pas­sen­gers.

Cruise ship tourism can pose safety and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns.

Arc­tic seas re­main poorly charted. In 2012, a 200-pas­sen­ger ship ran aground in the pas­sage, although the weather was calm. Ev­ery­one was helped off safely.

While Cana­dian reg­u­la­tions al­ready for­bid dis­charg­ing oil, oily waste, or any kind of garbage into Cana­dian Arc­tic wa­ters, some marine fu­els emit par­ti­cles that darken sea ice and snow, has­ten­ing their melt.

Still, Aaluq’s vis­i­tors seem to be en­joy­ing them­selves.

“We’re just fas­ci­nated,” says Heidi Canarelli of Las Ve­gas. “The peo­ple are just so nice, and the thought that they can live in this en­vi­ron­ment year round is over­whelm­ing.”

“What I’ve no­ticed the most is the amount of pride in their tra­di­tional way of life,” says Char­lotte Howard of Colorado Springs, Colo. “That mix­ture you get be­tween de­vel­op­ment and what we would call the mod­ern world.”

Num­bers are down slightly since 2014, when al­most 2,900 pas­sen­gers sailed the North­west Pas­sage. Still, more than 2,600 vis­i­tors were sched­uled in both 2016 and 2017, with 13 com­mu­ni­ties and 11 ships on this year’s itin­er­ary.

Plea­sure craft bring more peo­ple. In 2014, there were 30 of them with an­other 240 peo­ple aboard.

The most re­cent fig­ures, from 2011, sug­gest tourism left about $40 mil­lion in Nu­navut’s econ­omy.

“Av­er­age spend­ing has been low in the past off the cruise ships,” says Bob Cheetham, Gjoa Haven’s economic de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer. “But a lot of that’s about how we haven’t had the pro­mo­tional stuff on the cruise ships in ad­vance to pre­pare them for what they might be able to pur­chase here. That’s chang­ing.”

Th­ese pas­sen­gers have money, says Cheetham.

“The cruises are not cheap. They’re typ­i­cally peo­ple who are 50 and above. They’re peo­ple who have trav­elled the world and know what it’s about — most of them with very ex­pen­sive cam­eras.”

It’s worth the money for Har­riet Litt of Seat­tle.

“The land­scapes are fab­u­lous. Ev­ery day the light is dif­fer­ent,” she says.

cp pHoto

Pas­sen­gers from a cruise ship reach the shore on zo­diac boats dur­ing a visit to the town of Gjoa Haven, Nu­navut.

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