EUREKA Project E! 2408 on Arctic Tourism set out to study the possibilities for sustainable tourism which will not threaten the delicate ecosystem. Four widely differing locations within the Nordic Arctic region showed traditional reliance on just a few economic activities, making them vulnerable to unemployment. Local project groups working with local and national authorities, tourist organisations and other interests have developed an understanding of the factors common to all the locations. Action plans for each location and common guidelines for developing tourism options have been drawn up; both in relation to the local culture and traditions, and to the environment and wildlife.
Tourism and Environment in the Arctic had the ambitious target of mapping the effects tourism has already had on Arctic areas and pointing the way to tourism development without further damage. The population is low, e.g. Eastern Greenland has only 2,000 people in an area the size of Sweden. Where people were formerly self-sufficient, living by hunting, fishing, sheep-rearing or mining, dependence on these single trades has resulted in increasing unemployment. With this has come a certain amount of social problems and environmental damage, e.g. through inadequate disposal of waste.
The most important thing is that the local people have regained pride in being Greenlanders.
Stig Hirsbak, Ramboll, Denmark
The Arctic Tourism project was organised in four locations (two in Greenland, plus one each in Iceland and Norway). EUREKA project partners from Denmark, Iceland and Norway set out to plan the rehabilitation of damaged areas, including better systems for waste management, and to stimulate new, sustainable tourism. Stig Hirsbak from the Danish project coordinator Ramboll explains: "The project was trying to encourage people not only to prevent degeneration of the environment, but to recover from damage already done, and also to create some revenue." In Iceland, tourism is already well established with about ten active tour operators. Iceland needs higher awareness of the impact of tourists - at present they tend to visit the same scenic sites, even causing physical erosion. Svalbard in Norway is very different; the very few people living in one of the most northerly settlements in the world have since the 1800s been solely concerned with coal mining.
New initiatives to encourage visitors in a way that does not damage the environment can generate new local jobs and at the same time revive pride in traditional culture and occupations.
One way is to encourage local families to take in visitors for a week, sharing their traditional way of life. Some local authorities in Eastern Greenland have invested in communal shelters where families can welcome visitors. The tourism industry is booming and there is a constant demand for new and exciting destinations and experiences, so unusual challenges of this sort have appeal for the more adventurous traveller. The key is to prevent further damage; otherwise increased tourism would only be short-lived.
Each location had its own local project groups including tour operators, local people, local government and national tourism agencies. Action plans were drawn up for development in each location and a sustainability coordinator appointed. They examined what would make the locations more attractive to the visitor, including infrastructure, accommodation, appearance, provision of tourist information, and steps taken to protect the environment and wildlife. Stig Hirsbak continues: "If you can do all this, you can reduce dependency on the social system by having a new source of income, and at the same time you have cleaned up nature. The most important thing is that the local people have regained some pride in being Greenlanders. It's easy to talk about sustainability at the desk level, but much harder to make it work.
It's easy to talk about sustainability at the desk level, but much harder to make it work.
Stig Hirsbak, Ramboll, Denmark
Although the four areas had significant differences, the experience gained led to the development of common guidelines for managing the delicate balance between sustaining the economy, the culture and the Arctic environment. Important lessons emerged from the work, despite some initial reluctance to adopt a new approach. It became clear that tourism can offer a new source of local jobs in the Arctic region, provided it is developed with regard to sustainable use of resources, including the environment and wildlife. This should reduce the dependency of the traditional society on the few other sources of income. At the same time, generating tourism involves cooperation between many different types and levels of stakeholders, at both the local and national level.
The Arctic Tourism project involved collaboration from Denmark, Iceland and Norway, and was coordinated by Kåre Hendriksen, a consultant at the Danish company Ramboll. Ramboll was also responsible for the project implementation in Ammassallip Kommunia in Eastern Greenland and Ilulisat Kommuneat, North-Western Greenland. Info-Svalbard, later replaced by the related company Svalbard Reiseliv SV, worked with the project group in Svalbard, Norway and is concerned with tourism and travel analysis and market research.
IceTec, the Technological Institute of Iceland, implemented the project in Snaefellsnes, Iceland. It is an independent centre under the Icelandic Ministry of Industry and Energy, and contributed technical and managerial advice.
The project was unusual compared to other EUREKA projects in that it focused heavily on influencing the progress of tourism to ensure socioeconomic benefits to the local people. As well as financing, project leaders took inspiration and access to very varied viewpoints through being part of the EUREKA network.