Extreme Tourism in ‘Cold Water’ Islands – Section II

Section II: Specific Case Studies of Tourism in Cold Water Islands

Svalbard (Norway)
| Arvid Viken

This chapter deals with tourism in the context of the archipelago of Svalbard , internationally better known as Spitsbergen , which is actually the name of its largest island. Longyearbyen, the main town, is situated 958 kilometres north of Tromsø on the Norwegian mainland. For almost 150 years, people have been travelling to Svalbard for recreational and adventure purposes. During most of the 20 th century, Svalbard was primarily a destination for cruise ships, but since 1990 a land-based tourism industry has emerged, welcomed and partly stimulated by the Norwegian authorities. Since nature on these islands is harsh but vulnerable, environmental considerations are vital in the context of local policies and management systems, especially for tourism operations and strategies.

Svalbard is a unique jurisdiction. In the diplomatic aftermath to the First World War, an international treaty assigned sovereignty over the Svalbard Islands to Norway. However, the treaty also declared that all signatory parties should have equal rights to industrial development on the islands as long as they follow Norwegian law. The Russians have been the keenest to exercise this option. The main and only authority on the islands is the Governor of Svalbard who represents the Norwegian State for all intents and purposes.

Cruise ship tourism is a key activity. Major attractions are the scenery and the breathtaking views in front of the glaciers that go down into the sea where they calf. Besides, going ashore is a major anticipated activity, for the sake of hiking, bird watching, looking at other natural features and often to observe heritage sites – like old mining locations, old whaling stations, trapping stations, and places used by the explorers of the North – from close range. There is however evidence of an unplanned dispersal of ports of call and disembarkation, provoking more pressure on the sensitive ecology, leading in turn to likely restrictions on tourism movements. This should however be seen in the context of a shift in favour of self-regulation, where the tourism business lobby is assuming shared responsibility for environmental management.

Luleå Archipelago ( Sweden ) | Per-Ake Nilsson & Rosemarie Ankre

The Luleå archipelago is located far up north in Sweden, just 100km away from the Arctic Circle. It consists of over 700 islands located in the Gulf of Bothnia. Only a few of these islands are inhabited: the entire archipelago is now only populated by some 80 people.

According to the municipality of Luleå, there is an increasing awareness of the importance of tourism among local residents. The policy of the municipality is to encourage diversification within employment activities from the permanent residents’ side: fishing, transport facilities, tourism. Not all the inhabitants are happy with tourism however, even if they are generally in favour of tourism as a source of additional income.

From the municipality’s perspective, winter tourism is of utmost importance. For summer, the traditional regional, national and Norwegian market is intact; but for winter, something else must be found beyond local residents from Luleå. In order to target the winter tourism market, it is necessary to cultivate tour operators from Continental Europe. These generally agree that, with the exception of Santa Claus at Rovaniemi, Northern Scandinavia remains untapped for winter tourism purposes.

The Luleå region offers a set of winter tourism experiences. These include cross-country skiing, snowmobile driving, ice yachting or ice sailing (where the yacht is pushed along by the wind over ice), dog sledging, ice fishing, sauna (followed by a roll in the snow or a dip into the frigid waters for the really daring), picnics and hikes amongst the pack-ice (formed into majestic walls by the combined forces of wind and weather), canoeing and kayaking (possibly amongst the icebergs). All this in a formidable context of wide open spaces.

Iceland | Stefan Gossling

The very name “Ice-land” is the anti-thesis of hospitality. It was named by one of the first visitors, Flóki Vilgerdarson, a Viking who attempted to settle on the island, but had leave again because environmental conditions were too harsh. Frustrated, he called the land “Iceland”. Indeed, about 12% of Iceland’s terrestrial area of 103,000 km2 is covered by glaciers, 54% by rugged terrain, 11% by lava and 4% by sand. The extremeness of the environment is also expressed in the landscapes encountered: glaciers intermingle with volcanoes, geysers, sulphur springs and bizarre lava-streams. Many roads are inaccessible except for off-road vehicles and only some of these are paved and accessible all the year round. Accordingly, snowmobiles (in winter) and jeeps are the preferred means of transport in many parts of the country, even for tourist activities. The vast majority of Iceland is of volcanic origin and, in geological terms, very young. With an age of 20 million years, and – in some places – less than 40 years (the islet of Surtsey came into existence from 1963-1967), Iceland is often portrayed as still being in the process of creation. Tourists may in some areas even have the feeling of witnessing the “birth of the Earth”. The natural environment also makes a number of rather unusual activities possible, such as dog sledding on glaciers or bathing in craters. Even its fauna is an important part of the tourism product of Iceland. For example, whales come very close to the island, and whale watching has become an increasingly popular tourist experience, with some 72,000 tourists participating in this activity in 2003, 20% of these stating that whale watching was the main reason for them to visit Iceland. Whale watching contributed an estimated US$25 million to Iceland’s economy. Trout and salmon fishing is another popular tourist activity. Day licenses for Icelandic rivers and lakes are rather costly at US$35-130 per rod for trout and even more for salmon. As the guidebook warns, a licence to catch salmon is extremely expensive: add the price of a guide, equipment and transportation and you have some of the most costly angling imaginable.

Iceland’s society and culture cannot be understood without considering the island’s history. The first people to discover Iceland were Irish monks, who were seemingly impressed by the island, reporting that, in summer, it was possible to still pick flees at midnight because the sun would not set. Permanently settled by Norwegian Vikings from 874 onwards, the island grew rapidly in population, reaching 60,000 by AD 930 when a parliament (The Althing) was established, mostly to dispense justice. However, as the Althing only had legislative and judicative power, there were no opportunities to punish offenders of the law in their absence. Executive power was given to the accuser, who had the right to punish the condemned or to seek compensation. During this time, and up to AD 1100, most of the Icelandic “sagas” came into existence, stories of offence and revenge, seeking to record their heroes’ great achievements and to glorify the virtues of courage, pride, and honour. Murderers sometimes had to leave Iceland. This was, for instance, the reason for Eiríkur Thorvaldsson, known as Eric the Red, to leave Iceland and to settle in Greenland, from where his son Leifur Eiríksson made the journey to North America, possibly around the year 1000. It is clear that this period is of great importance for today’s image of Iceland, which often refers to the island’s Viking past, a period of exploration and adventure, of outlaws and brave men.

For most of its early history (930-1262), Iceland remained independent, but came afterwards under the rule of Norway and later Denmark. During these centuries, Iceland was usually seen as an outpost of these countries, a hinterland that could be economically exploited. Iceland impoverished subsequently and famine spread in the late 19th century when several years of bad harvests coincided with the violent eruption of the Askja volcano in 1875 and a number of earthquakes in 1896. Between 1870 and 1914, 10,000-20,000 Icelanders emigrated to Canada and the USA. Securing home rule in 1918, it was only in 1944, during the entanglements of World War II, that Iceland could declare itself independent from Denmark. Since then, the country has been prospering, and the CIA World Factbook states: “Literacy, longevity, income, and social cohesion are first-rate by world standards”.

The notion of a unique and somehow different society is nevertheless maintained. This is well exemplified by the Icelandic language, which is said to still be similar to the Vikings’. It maintains the old Nordic system of passing on the father’s first name to the child, which becomes its last name (“son/daughter of”). Likewise, glamorous artists such as Björk have greatly influenced the perception of Iceland, and tourists visiting the country might also experience a number of “extreme” habits. Note, for instance, McMahon’s (2001) recommendation to “stop in one of the few fishing villages and sample some of Iceland’s traditional cuisine: ram’s testicle, or pungent cubes of shark meat that have been buried in the sand and left to rot; then erase the memory with a shot of brennivin, a native schnapps known as Black Death”.

The image of the post-Viking society is also maintained through famous writers such as Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness, whose novels of ancient times are often characterized by great brutality. The image of the Viking relative is thus somehow part of tourist perceptions, to such an extent that there is a perceived need for correction: “Vikings? No. Cosmopolitan, highly educated, over-worked and always pressed for time. That just about sums up the Icelanders”.

With an estimated 2005 population of just 296,737, Iceland has, within a few decades, turned from one of the laggard into one of the leading economies in Europe: the country is number ten on the Forbes-list of the most competitive economies in the world; has an enviably low unemployment rate of 3.1%; and a per capita GDP (purchasing power parity) of US$31,900 in 2004.

The importance of technology is visible everywhere in Iceland. Jeeps (often large “super jeeps”) are an expression of technological superiority and a constant reminder of the extreme character of the environment. Iceland is also known for its vast energy resources, including hydropower and geothermal power. Their potential is such that comparably low energy prices can be guaranteed and the island has managed to attract energy-intense industries such as aluminium and ferro-silicon plants. In Reykjavik, the availability of cheap energy has made city-planners introduce heated streets to make the winter servicing of roads unnecessary. Some geothermal power stations are open for visitors, and the power plant at Nesjavellir close to Reykjavik is visited by thousands of tourists each year. Another example is the Blue Lagoon, an exclusive wellness spa using the “waste water” from an adjacent geothermal power plant and one of the main tourist attractions of Iceland.

Iceland appeared in the world media in 1998 when an Act was passed to set up a Health Sector Database (HSD) in 1998, a pioneering database which includes all (meaning present, future and past) medical records of the entire population of Iceland, with a view help identify genetic traits and inherited diseases. This, in turn, would help to design drugs. The rights to use the database were granted to a biopharmaceutical company, DeCode, which describes its goal as the development of new, more effective drugs based upon gene discovery work in some 50 common diseases. The initiative sparked strong criticism, however: fundamental questions raised focused on privacy, intellectual property rights and the ethical limits of science and capitalism, putting Iceland at the forefront of international ethics debates.

Another example in the technology sphere is the portrayal of Iceland as an emerging hydrogen-society, designing the cutting edge of energy technology. The world’s media has been closely following this process, as the era of fossil fuels might see its end with the depletion of oil resources. Hence, Iceland has been in the spotlight of discourses on sustainable energy futures.

Greenland | Berit Kaae

Although the world’s largest island, Greenland has a population of only 56,854, with 88% being Inuit and 12% being Danes and other nationalities. As a relatively remote cold water destination, tourism has only become a significant societal factor in Greenland within the last decade.

In the 1930s, ships carrying tourists from the USA and France were observed in Greenland . Organized tourist travel to Greenland only began in 1959 with flights from Copenhagen and one-day tourist flights from Iceland . From around 500 tourists in 1960, and 3,500 in 1992, tourism only exploded after it became one of three key issues in a commercial development strategy established by the Greenlandic Home Rule Government. The intentions were to diversify the economy by supplementing income from the declining fishing industry with incomes from minerals and tourism. substantial public funds were allocated to tourism development, and Greenland has since been marketed as an emerging tourist destination. Tourism has grown steadily and substantially since the early 1990s to around 30,000 tourist arrivals annually.

Tourism in Greenland is strongly linked to nature and culture. The nature experiences in tourism in Greenland are oriented towards experiencing the ice and snow, flora and fauna, hiking and camping, seeing the midnight sun or the northern lights, dog sledding, sailing along the coast on ferries or cruise ships, angling, and whale watching. It also involves more specialized activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, ice golf, heli-skiing, adventure racing, Polar Circle marathon and other sport events. Cultural experiences include viewing the historic remains of the early Inuit and Norse cultures as well as experiencing present day culture. The focus on nature and nature-related activities is strongly reflected in printed or internet-based marketing material.

Accessibility – both external and internal – is a key issue in development plans in Greenland : in tourism, this depends primarily on infrastructure and prices. The mountainous coastal terrain limits the length of airport runways and only allows for smaller planes. Several plans to expand runways to provide larger planes with direct access to the capital Nuuk and other towns are often discussed; but the infrastructure expansions are very expensive, creating a barrier to tourism. In a few cases, plans to increase infrastructure also collide with tourism interests.

Baffin Island / Nunavut (Canada) | Simon Milne

Baffin Island, the world’s fifth largest island with a total surface area of over 500,000 square kilometres, is found in the North East of the Canadian Territory of Nunavut, a jurisdiction carved out from the former Northwest Territories in 1999. It is today the world’s largest jurisdiction managed by aboriginal peoples, who make up some 80% of its population of around 30,000. The land is claimed to be “one of the last, great untouched wilderness areas on Earth”.

The Baffin Island Inuit face a number of important challenges to their attempts to gain greater control over their economic destiny. The physical realities of the region, including its isolation, limited population base and harsh climate, largely preclude the growth of commercial agriculture and manufacturing. As a result most attention has been focused on the exploitation of the region’s diverse natural resource base. These resources have, however created few sustainable, down-stream linkages with the local economy and generated little in the way of technology-transfer and local employment. The reliance on resource exploitation and external markets has left the region with a legacy of a boom and bust economy that is highly vulnerable to the vagaries of international demand.

In an attempt to diversify community economic structures and reduce levels of direct economic dependence on the public sector, the Government of Nunavut, in conjunction with the region’s hamlets, has been actively developing and promoting tourism. In the early 1980s a formal community-based tourism policy was established. The overarching goal of the strategy is to develop an industry that is substantially planned, owned and operated by Inuit and Northern residents and which reflects community aspirations. The government favours the development of non-consumptive ‘ecotourism’: focusing on adventure (hiking, kayaking), naturalist (wildlife viewing), and arts/culture tours.

A number of key issues have been raised in past research on the Baffin and Nunavut tourism industry, including: a lack of investment in infrastructure, parks and other visitor facilities; relatively high transportation costs faced by visitors to the North; the need for training in the hospitality industry; and better networks that connect tourism agencies and which provide valuable information to operators on trends and usage.

Banks Island ( Canada ) | Sarah Marsh & Suzanne de la Barre

Banks Island is the westernmost island of the Canadian Arctic archipelago. It measures 67,340 square kilometers and is Canada’s fifth largest island. Yet, it is home to only one village, Sachs Harbour: the northernmost community in the Northwest Territories. Compared to other northern communities, the people of Banks Island have maintained self-sufficient lifestyles harvesting muskoxen, caribou, polar bears, whales and seals and living cooperatively off the land.

Banks Island does not have standard tourism infrastructure – there are no restaurants, visitor centres or hotels, with the exception of one 4-bedroom guesthouse. Instead, residents play a critical role, often offering a bed to sleep in, traditional clothing and meals, and a taste of the Inuvialuit culture within their homes. Most travellers are prepared to camp and do not require this support from the community. However, others rely heavily on the services offered by residents. The reliance upon community members requires visitors to interact closely with locals and learn more about the local culture.

Banks Island has been billed as “an Arctic Garden of Edenand “an oasis and refuge for both flora and fauna”, conjuring images of natural beauty and seclusion. It embraces rolling tundra landscapes, beautiful wildflowers and birds, along with animals like hares, foxes and muskoxen unique to the Arctic . Trapping and hunting remain major industries in the region. The potential of hunting a trophy muskoxen or polar bear appeal to dedicated sport hunters. Visitors to Banks Island are known to research and prepare well for their trips due to the extreme conditions and lack of typical tourism infrastructure and amenities.

Nunivak ( Alaska ) | Ted Berry

Nunivak Island, population around 215, is located in the Bering Sea about 64 km off the coast of Southwest Alaska, USA. It is about 885 km west of Anchorage and 241 km west of Bethel, the administration centre for the region. The island has a land area of 4,210 sq km. At 60.39° North and -166.19° West, it is south of the Arctic Circle. The only village on the island is Mekoryuk on the North coast with ninety-seven percent of residents being either full or part Cup’ig pronounced Choop-ig Eskimo. Natives of Nunivak are also known as Nuniwarmiut, meaning the people of Nuniwar (Nunivak) island. Cup’ig translates as “The Real People” and is also the word used for their language.

Cup’ig people have occupied Nunivak for over 2000 years and today, a federally recognized tribe is located in Mekoryuk. Up to the 1940s, the women and children on lived in semi-subterranean sod houses while men lived in a “kasigi”, or men’s community house. The first Westerner to visit was the Russian, Captain Mikhail S. Vasilev of the Russian American Company, in 1821. Vasilev said there were 400 people living in some 16 villages on the Island. Oral history, and early visitors however, recorded that there were several villages and up to 700 people on the island subsisting on fish, seal, caribou, berries and other local foods. In 1900 an epidemic wiped out the population, leaving only four families alive.

Tourism does not appear to be a significant part of the local economy. However, there are several licensed hunting guides and transporters on the island. Guide services for musk-oxen and reindeer hunting provide significant income for several families. In 2000, 77residents were employed and the unemployment rate was 19.79%. The median household income was $30,833 with a per capita income of $11,957. In the same year, 21.88%, or approximately 47, residents were living below the poverty level. There is a 2% sales tax but no property taxes.

Nunivak relies heavily on air transportation for passenger, mail and cargo service. The State-owned, 914 metre long, gravel runway allows year-round access but is only equipped for visual landings. Considering the island is prone to foggy weather, planes are often not able to land. The closest all-weather airport big enough to accommodate large passenger jets is 150 miles away at Bethel. For heavy goods such as oil and building materials, there is a barge from Bethel twice each summer. Boats, snow machines and all terrain vehicles are used for travel within the Island.

Macquarie Island ( Australia ) | Lorne K. Kriwoken, Claire F. Ellis, & Nick Holmes

Australia’s wild, wet and windy sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island is situated in the Southern Ocean two days sailing south from the port of Hobart, Tasmania. This unique and hostile environment has an abundance of spectacular wildlife such as the elephant seal, endemic royal penguin and albatross. The island also supports a cold island tourism industry that uses expedition-style ships to allow visitors access to nature-based experiences. This takes place in the context of a distinct legal and administrative framework for tourism management, given that Macquarie Island is a World Heritage Site. The only host community consists of researchers and field staff and these people play a role in educating tourists about the island and in the planning and management of the island.

In the period 1987 to 2004, just over 4,000 tourists have visited the island with commercial tour operators. Tourists arrive on expedition-style ships, usually with no more than 100 to 150 passengers. The nature-based experience is supported by a high level of onboard interpretation from lecturers and expedition staff. Visitation is strictly controlled and, in some cases, severe weather does not allow commercial tourists to disembark. The island is often included as a stop over in a longer expedition to Antarctica or to the New Zealand sub-Antarctic islands.

Despite the acknowledgement of very limited environmental impacts from tourism and the broad political encouragement of tourism to Macquarie Island, there has not been support for proposals to extend access to the island, particularly overnight stays and extension of walking areas. Physically, the island is not well suited to further track development as access to higher ground would be steep and require extensive infrastructure costs, increase human safety concerns and potentially disturb wildlife. Overnight stays require accommodation infrastructure, food supplies, rubbish removal, toilet waste disposal and first aid capabilities and these are not presently considered appropriate given the high conservation value of the island.

Chatham Islands ( New Zealand ) | Peter Wiltshier & Andrew Cardow

The Chatham Islands lie approximately 800 km off the coast of New Zealand in the deep south of the Pacific Ocean, 2 hours flying time due east of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Since 1984, the Government of New Zealand has delegated responsibility for implementing regional development to the local territorial authority and has empowered that authority with policy and legislation (mostly through resource-management control) to develop and regulate industry and economic development. On the Chatham Islands, the response to such devolution was to establish an enterprise trust that would oversee and provide guidance concerning the nature of new Islands-wide initiatives.

There are just 696 people living on 2,500 square km of rugged terrain with plentiful supplies of seafood, pasture and fresh water. The Chatham Islands have a diverse and unique indigenous flora and fauna that has attracted both colonists and invading Maori tribes. The coastline is both rugged and endowed with long white sandy beaches, clear deep blue sea, unique flora and home to some of New Zealand’s most endangered birds, including a waterfowl, the taiko, and the New Zealand black robin. Today, this rich natural base is a platform for the development of an incipient tourism industry.

In presenting the Chathams as a tourism destination, some of the features addressed are endemic to remote cold water islands. These include: the impact of oligopolistic practices on the destination; the difficulty of improving access to the destination; the authenticity of local products as tools for tourism interpretation and marketing; and conflicts between operators and the few established owners of the marketing channels. Other issues are more specific to the Chathams and include the actual activity content and management strategies of the various tourism operations; and a need to focus on marketing of known tourism services and products.

Stewart Island ( New Zealand ) | C. Michael Hall

Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third largest island. Lying at the southern end of the country the island has long been a location of which New Zealanders have talked of in glowing terms as to its natural beauty but usually never visited themselves.

Although covering an area of 1,746 km 2, similar in size to Singapore, the island has only 25 km of road, 245 km of walking tracks and a permanent population of approximately 400 people. Still, the island receives over 60,000 visitors a year and has a significant number of second homes.

Tourism is growing, reflecting an increase in interest throughout the world in plants, animals and ‘unspoilt’ or remote places. Stewart Island offers the tourist the opportunity to see large numbers of seabirds, bush birds uncommon on the mainland and a largely unmodified flora, as well as spectacular scenery. The challenge is to provide for the needs of the residents while retaining the quality of the environment.

As with the New Zealand mainland, the most significant indigenous fauna is the bird population. This includes the native parakeet, wood pigeon, tui, bellbird, tomtit, weka, robin, fernbird and kaka. Arguably, the most significant species is the Stewart Island kiwi, known as the southern tokoeka, which behaves differently from mainland species maintaining family groups and engaging in day-time feeding activity. Both these factors are extremely significant from a tourist perspective as it increases the likelihood of the birds viewed by visitors unlike the mainland species that feed at night.

Given the conservation significance of Stewart Island’s flora and fauna and the relatively undisturbed nature of much of its landscape, Rakiura National Park was established and opened on the island in 2002. The park covers about 157,000 hectares and comprises about 85 per cent of the island. As with all types of economic development, tourism related development as a result of national park establishment was perceived as having both positive and negative dimensions with community responses often seeming somewhat contradictory, although the central concerns of the resident community were clearly related to the desire to maintain perceived quality of life and improving services at minimal economic and social cost.

Falklands | Stephen Royle

Located off the coast of Argentina, the Falklands comprise two substantial islands, West and East Falkland and over 700 smaller islands of largely sedimentary and metamorphic origin. The islands’ 12,173 sq km, combined with a tiny civilian population of 2,500 (of whom 2,000 lived in the one town, Stanley) results in low population density.

The 1982 Falklands Conflict catapulted the islands onto the world stage and accelerated ongoing modernisation, as Britain had now to be seen to cherish this colonial outpost on which so much blood and treasure had been expended. Tourism is one product in the search for post-conflict diversification, in which the Falkland Islands Development Corporation is much involved. This now vies with agriculture to be the islands’ second industry.

Cruise ship passengers comprise the vast majority of Falkland visitors, 34,000 in 2003-04; closer to 50,000 if crew visits are included. The few hundred land-based tourists each year are less seasonal than those on ships; they stay longer—normally at least a week, given the infrequent flights—and spend more, needing accommodation and food, and spread tourism beyond the ten sites used by cruise ships. The third major tourist sector is an unusual captive market—the military posted to the islands. In 1985 the British established an airbase where perhaps 1,500 service personnel are stationed, each entitled to R&R (rest and relaxation, military speak for holidays), which they may choose to spend away from the base.

Why visit the Falklands? They are a curiosity, off Latin America, but an English-speaking British Overseas Territory where people drive on the left and celebrate the Queen’s birthday with 21 gun salutes. Some come because of the 1982 conflict, with tour companies arranging focused visits to battlefields, plane crash sites, cemeteries and memorials. Others are attracted to the historic ships condemned and abandoned here; some come because the islands are quiet and safe. There are the famous stone runs, prominent especially on East Falkland, which look like rivers of stone and are spectacular when seen from the air. There is no pollution, the light’s clarity giving the landscape deep, vibrant colours, attracting photographers. Some cherish the traditional sheep ranching economy. Follow-up questionnaires with clients of one company picked up on these themes: ‘unspoilt’, ‘hospitable’, ‘friendly’ and ‘authentic’ were terms used. Further, there is excellent angling, especially for sea trout, in little fished, uncrowded rivers, where the angler will probably not see another fisher: some will come round the world for such experiences.

South Shetlands / Antarctic Tourism | Thomas G. Bauer

Antarctica is the fifth largest continent and covers 13.9 million square kilometres. It is almost completely covered by a thick layer of ice and snow that holds some 70% of the world’s fresh water and 90% of its ice. It is the highest, windiest, coldest, driest, and remotest of all the continents. The vast interior is a polar desert devoid of life but during the brief summer months the coastal regions and offshore islands such as the provide seasonal habitat to large numbers of penguins, flying sea birds and seals. Marine wildlife comes ashore to court, mate, nest, and breed and to raise their off-spring before returning to the sea prior to the onset of winter.Antarctica is the only continent that has never had an indigenous human population. Even today the only semi-permanent residents are scientists and their support staff at the over 40 scientific research stations. The absence of a local population means that no on-shore tourist infrastructure is available. There are no markets, churches or museums to visit, no pubs and restaurants to explore and no locals to mix-and-mingle with. The only shopping opportunities for visiting tourists are provided by the souvenir shops of the scientific stations. The range of products sold is limited to T-shirts, sweatshirts, baseball caps, coffee mugs, key rings, postcards as well as postage stamps of the countries that operate the stations.  In the absence of a local population that could benefit economically or socially from tourist activities, tourism exists predominantly for the benefit of the tourists and tour operators.

Arctic Cruise Ship Tourism | Callum Thomson & Jane Sproull Thomson

The islands of the North Atlantic visited by adventure cruise lines share some similarities, but each is unique and these comparative characteristics are of great interest to visitors. All share a severe environment, a fauna and flora unique to Northern regions including migratory terrestrial birds, waterfowl and seabirds, seasonal and resident sea mammals, a few species of land mammals, a tundra-like ground-hugging vegetation as well as an exciting history.

The climate in these northern oceanic island regions often yields high winds, erosion and severe limits on the height and variety of those few trees able to germinate and grow. Agriculture is challenging if not impossible, and only the hardiest of domestic animals can be successfully raised.

Although their human populations (if any) differ in origin, all these islands have been subject to or influenced by waves of exploration and/or immigration, especially from the Nordic countries. The result is a thrilling if tragic history of clashing cultures, Viking raids and settlement, whaling and sealing disasters, and vanished adventurers, which cries out to be narrated and shown off to visitors from cruise ships.

Following the wake of the Norse longships, though in somewhat more comfort and security, provides a unique and memorable experience for the expedition cruise passenger. The experience is made all the more informative by the ship’s naturalists and historians who describe the life history of the mammals, birds and geographic features encountered en route, and explain how they were exploited by the Norse and aboriginal peoples.

The Viking Trail theme is supplanted elsewhere among the cold ocean islands by other themes linking the destinations. The Search for the Northwest Passage follows the story of 500 years of daring and often tragic exploits through the islands of the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Inuit Art and Culture traces the evolution of art styles and media and the people responsible for creating them from the prehistoric period to the present, with visits to some of the most interesting and productive communities like Cape Dorset and Pangnirtung on Baffin Island. Cruises like these are appreciated by art collectors who relish the opportunity not only to study and collect unique original artwork, but also to meet the artists and learn at first hand about their way of life. When a cruise itinerary includes visits to the well-known art centres on Baffin Island, or Holman on Victoria Island, it is customary for the small expedition ships to offer the onboard expertise of an art historian. Typically lecturers/study leaders provide an introduction before arrival at the anticipated stop, conduct an informal and personalized tour once ashore, and offer advice or moral support while exploration or business is underway.

Small ship expeditions to cold ocean islands offer tourists the opportunity to experience a way of life completely different from that of the average urban Westerner. From the Hebridean crofter to the Inuk hunter in Nunavut, the people encountered invariably treasure their difficult environments. Their closely guarded sense of family and community reinforces for the weary cynic the sense that real human values lie outside of purchasing power. What better way could there be to gain these experiences than by traveling from island to island in the comfort and security of a small expedition cruise ship? The expedition cruise passenger returns enriched, to a home also made richer for his or her travels among the cold ocean islands of the world.

Solovetsky Islands / Russia | Julia Nevmerzhitskaya

There are places in the world where nature, culture, history and mystery are strongly inter-connected. These places attract people’s attention and interest over the years. Solovetsky archipelago is surely such a place. Located in the western part of the White Sea, 150 km from the Arctic Circle, the Solovetsky archipelago (or Solovki, as Russians call it) covers about 300 sq. km. The archipelago consists of 6 comparatively large islands and scores of smaller ones. Administratively, the archipelago forms part of the Arkhangelsk region.

The White Sea is a part of Arctic Ocean: even though it was called “Freezing Sea” in ancient times, the climate there is more continental due to lack of cold ocean streams and influence of warm ocean airflows. Still, the average water surface temperature is only +4 C in June and up to +8 C in August.

What attracts thousands of tourists each year to this cold remote peace of land in the Arctic Ocean? Is it the fascinating nature of the island, with a relatively warm microclimate for these latitudes?; is it the chance to get away from the mainland?; an opportunity to visit the famous Solovetsk Monastery?; or just experience the spirit of a former GULAG?

Solovetsk is all about isolation. This is the place, where all the components: location, people, nature, culture and tradition conjure up the same idea – that of the transformation of the human mind. This is the place where different epochs are focused: neolithic labyrinths, an Orthodox monastery, and a Soviet concentration camp – nowhere in the world can there be found such a combination of features in such a small insular area. The mixture of great history, Orthodox traditions, isolation from the whole world and challenging weather together with the spirit of a holy place makes Solovki an attractive contemporary tourist destination.

Although Solovki is considered to be one of the most isolated and remote tourism destinations in Russia, tourism is becoming one of the main industries here. In 2003, there were more than 30,000 summer tourists, a quarter of which are pilgrims, coming with the monastery pass. Taking into account that there are only 990 local residents, this number is regarded as considerable. Such tourist flows need to be regulated, and the question of regulation is twofold: one one hand, it is necessary to limit mass tourism in order to prevent an erosion of the natural environment and to keep the place isolated and quiet (which, after all, is what makes the place attractive to the tourists in the first place); and on the other hand, there is a need to attract capital in order to develop the tourist industry, and support the amenities and products that the tourists expect as part of their stay.


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