Greenland looks to grow tourism by tapping adventure, winter travel trends

The national tourism board is looking to establish itself as an adventure tourism destination ahead of expanded airport capacity coming into use in 2023.

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More events like the Arctic Circle Race, a three-day cross-country ski event held each April near Sisimiut, could help draw adventure tourists and winter tourists to Greenland. (Kevin McGwin)

Greenland is looking to attract 15,000 more visitors over the next three years by promoting winter tourism and appealing to people looking to take part in physically challenging activities during their stay.

“It is our belief that there is room for far more tourists that want to experience our magnificent nature and gain insight into Greenlandic culture and experience the authenticity for which our country is known,” Visit Greenland, the national tourism board, said in its 2019-2023 tourism strategy, released earlier this month.

The strategy seeks to prepare the industry to take advantage of new airport facilities that, after their expected opening in 2023, will make it possible to fly directly to the country’s two main destinations from abroad.

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When the airport improvements were passed by the national assembly, one of the arguments was that they were required if the country was to expand its tourism industry, which, along with fishing and mining, has been identified by legislators as one three key sources of income for the country.

In order to reach its 5 percent annual growth target, Visit Greenland says it must create a “reason to go” for people who are not already considering Greenland as destination. Failure to do so, it fears, will leave the new airports underutilized.

“With the prospect of greater accessibility to Greenland in the coming years, it is, of course, crucial that together with increased tourism, we take good care of our nature and our small communities in the towns and settlements,” said Julia Pars, managing director of Visit Greenland.

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Key to reaching this goal will be building Greenland’s reputation as a destination for adventure travelers, people whose travel primarily involves outdoor activity, but often includes elements of culture and contact with residents.

A rapid growth rate that will see this form of travel account for 36 percent of global tourism this year, coupled with its reputation for high levels of local interaction and spending and minimal environmental impact make it a desirable segment, according to Visit Greenland.

“Adventure tourism is the fastest growing form of tourism and it fits well with Visit Greenland’s strategy for responsible tourism with a focus on sustainability,” the strategy says. “That is why it is important for us as a tourism destination and as an industry to adapt our products and services to match what is sought after by adventure tourists.”

Unlike other northern destinations, only a small fraction of the 100,000 people travelling to Greenland each year do so during the winter. Most guests arrive in July and August, when the figure is more than five times than that in December (see figure below).

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Attracting more visitors during the winter months, according to Visit Greenland, can be done by focusing on winter tourism and seeking to attract events outside the high season.

“If the tourism industry in Greenland is to be economically sustainable, it is paramount that the tourism industry can make money and offer year-round jobs.”

Visit Greenland says it will also have an eye on the industry’s reputation amongst residents and visitor satisfaction, which it believes can be addressed by establishing a quality label for firms in the industry.

Number of foreigners arriving in Greenland by month in 2019. More statistics available at tourismstat.gl. (Naatsorsueqqissaartarfik)