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Spend! Spend! Spend! Nunavut comes up with plan for growing cruise ship traffic

The Nunavut government has a plan to boost economic development through the growing cruise ship industry, as Arctic communities prepare to host their first massive luxury cruise ship.

'Tourists on the cruise ships just came, took some pictures, and left'

This year, Nunavut is anticipating some 4,700 cruise ship passengers. It's 1,000 more than last year, largely due to the massive Crystal Serenity cruise ship, which is scheduled to stop in Pond Inlet. (Courtesy Crystal Cruises)

The Nunavut government is looking for ways to entice cruise ship passengers to splurge in the communities they visit, rather than getting off, snapping a few selfies and getting back on the ship without spending a dime.

The government tabled a three-year marine tourism management plan during this fall's legislative sitting, the first of its kind, to address how to handle the growing cruise ship industry in Nunavut. 

Tourist spending aside, it's also looking at how to tackle other issues, like overcrowding in communities, and educating both industry and passengers on the etiquette and rules when they're in Nunavut.

Not a 'win-win process'

The government held community consultations ahead of launching the management plan. The issue Nunavummiut brought up most frequently was tourists spending little money ashore.

"The communities didn't feel like they were part of the economic development. They felt the tourists on the cruise ships just came, took some pictures, and left," said Nancy Guyon, the tourism and cultural industries director with Nunavut government.

Nancy Guyon, the tourism and cultural industries director with the Nunavut government, says they're working on 'something in the pipeline' to entice tourists to spend. (CBC)

"So it wasn't a win-win process in marine tourism. Of course artists in Nunavut can find a more efficient model to be able to sell more, but we also need to find a way for those tourists who travel to Nunavut to make more economic benefits to the communities."

Guyon wouldn't elaborate on how the government plans to entice tourists to spend more, but promised there is "something in the pipeline" through this new plan.

Some communities are thriving, though. Officials in Pond Inlet estimate the roughly 1,400 cruise ship passengers from last year dropped about $30,000 into the community.

"It's mostly carvings and hand-crafted materials," said Ernest Merkosak, the manager of Pond Inlet's visitor centre.

"They do pay for performers. There's the Tununiq Theatre Group that performs for the tourists that come up here. They have cultural performances and the tourists are always glad to participate in it and get some insight into the traditional knowledge of our culture."

'Negative social and cultural outcomes'

The management plan also calls for the need to educate cruise ships and their passengers about Nunavut's cultural norms. During community consultations, people raised concerns about "negative interactions between tourists and local people."

Specifically, the plan says for tourism development to be successful, it has to contribute to locals and businesses, "without negative social and cultural outcomes."

The government's management plan also highlights the need to educate cruise ships and their passengers about Nunavut's cultural norms. (Nick Murray/CBC)

"We understand Arctic communities live in a very unique reality that is very different from what a rich, southern, affluent tourist is going to come up and see," said Sebastian Charge, Nunavut's senior advisor on tourism and legislation.

"While the language is a bit iffy there, one of the big areas can be something as simple as southern tourists coming up and seeing dog teams fed by a bunch of seals and seeing a bloody beach full of seal carcasses.

"That might be problematic, but not even in the sense that it's morally wrong or anything. It's just the sensibility is not there for southern tourists."

Guyon said tourists need to anticipate and be prepared to see those kinds of things.

Legislating tourism

To address the possibility that a community's population could almost double with a shipload of people, the government is considering creating regulations, such as limiting the number of passengers who can come ashore.

This year, Nunavut is anticipating some 4,700 cruise ship passengers (assuming the 25 scheduled voyages are all sold out). It's 1,000 more than last year, largely due to the massive Crystal Serenity cruise ship, which is scheduled to stop in Pond Inlet.

Officials in Pond Inlet estimate the roughly 1,400 cruise ship passengers from last year dropped about $30,000 into the community. (Nick Murray/CBC)

"With the Crystal Serenity, it's a 1,000-passenger ship. Now they're a good company and they're voluntarily limiting the number of passengers who can come ashore," Charge said.

"But if you've got one renegade that just drops a thousand people in a community, that's a problem. So the regulations will give us the legal authority to limit the amount of people coming on shore."

The government says it's launching a pilot project this year to work with cruise ship companies to "identify their contributions to each community."

The Ocean Endeavour cruise ship is the first one scheduled to hit Nunavut shores in Pangnirtung on July 15.

About the Author

Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked two Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.

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