[Show/Hide Left Column]

Future Arctic Marine Tourism

(from AMSA Report 2009)


Tourists now represent the single largest human presence in the Arctic and the overwhelming majority of these visitors travel aboard ships. The Arctic’s once forbidding marine environment now attracts growing numbers of tourists aboard more and larger ships to a greater diversity of Arctic destinations. The future of Arctic marine tourism represents serious challenges to public authorities and businesses seeking to address the issues of safe passage and resource management.

Managing Future Marine Tourism

The growing popularity of polar marine tourism and the cruise industry’s intentions to expand and diversify its polar market are creating significant management challenges. Foremost among those challenges are ice and weather conditions, lack of reliable hydrographic information, insufficient capacity of infrastructure to respond to emergencies, remoteness of tourist transits and destinations and the sheer size of vessels serving the polar cruise market. The legal and regulatory context defining appropriate ship and tourism operations consists of international treaty conventions, national laws, adopted regulations, industry guidelines and consensus-based guidelines brokered by non-governmental organizations. Governments, the tourism industry and non-governmental organizations are all determining the operational parameters for polar marine tourism through a variety of mechanisms.

National Laws and Regulations

The eight Arctic nations have enacted and enforce numerous laws and regulations governing marine operations and pollution. Based on international regulations, the national laws provide a framework to protect the Arctic environment, promote human safety and provide for a coordinated response to marine incidents, as well as enabling cooperation among the Arctic states. National attempts to regulate marine tourism extend from exceedingly stringent controls to considerably more flexible management techniques. Norway’s government, for example, plans to significantly restrict cruise ship traffic around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and prohibit the use of heavy fuel oil. The new rules will limit to 200 the number of passengers allowed on board each ship that enters nature preserves on East Svalbard, and those tourists who are allowed entry are paying a special environmental tax. Another approach to the management of marine tourism, currently implemented by the U.S. government and the State of Alaska, is the use of onboard rangers who perform monitoring and pollution enforcement responsibilities. Some Arctic governments find themselves with the challenge of simultaneously trying to protect the environment while also promoting tourism.

Self-Imposed Industry Guidelines and NGO Codes of Conduct

Expedition cruise ship companies operating in both the Arctic and Antarctic are utilizing self-imposed guidelines to enhance marine operations, visitor safety and provide environmental and cultural resource protection. The creation and application of self-imposed industry guidelines for the conduct of environmentally responsible and safe polar tourism began with the formation of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) in 1990. The guidelines specifically address the management issues of ship operations, visitor behavior ashore, emergency response plans, the protection of Antarctica’s marine and land resources and the preservation of the southern continent’s heritage resources. IAATO’s Emergency Contingency Plan has been successfully implemented on several occasions and is constantly updated to improve emergency response capabilities. Given the fact that these guidelines are directly relevant to polar conditions, marine tourism operations and the management of tourists when ashore, Arctic governments, communities and tour operators should benefit from their application to Arctic tourism.

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) was founded in 2003 for the purpose of “managing respectable, environmentally friendly and safe expeditions in the Arctic. The members agree that expedition cruises and tourism in the Arctic must be carried out with the utmost consideration for the vulnerable natural environment, local cultures and cultural remains, as well as the challenging safety hazards at sea and on land. AECO members are obligated to operate in accordance with national and international laws and regulations and agreed upon AECO by-laws and guidelines.” AECO’s offices are located in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway and its geographical range in 2008 was Svalbard, Jan Mayen and Greenland. AECO developed its guidelines with considerable input from the Governor of Svalbard, Norwegian Polar Institute, World Wildlife Fund for Nature’s Arctic Program, as well as Greenland Tourism, Greenland Home Rule, The Environmental and Nature Agency, and others. Participation by all Arctic coastal states would strengthen the association and its goals.

The WWF’s program, in cooperation with tour operators, conservation organizations, managers, researchers and representatives from indigenous communities, has created the Principles and Codes for Arctic Tourism. The 10 principles encourage tourism development that protects the environment as much as possible, educates tourists about the Arctic’s environment and peoples, respects the rights and cultures of Arctic residents and increases the share of tourism revenues that go to northern communities.

The Importance of Infrastructure

Infrastructure, defined for the purpose of marine tourism management, includes both the physical and human resources needed to prevent harm potentially arising from ship operations. Polar tourism currently operates in regions of the world that have either few or no infrastructure resources. In many regions of the Arctic, the capacity to prevent loss of human life, protect property, contain environmental contamination, monitor sensitive resources and enforce laws is greatly diminished by remoteness, lack of capacity and severe environmental conditions. Arctic nations, both individually and collectively, are legally responsible for providing infrastructure in order to prevent loss of life, property and environmental damage. These responsibilities are clearly within their sovereign domain of providing for the health, safety and welfare of their citizens, visitors and their environmental resources. The amount of information, facilities, equipment and human resources is not sufficient to meet the Arctic’s current and anticipated volume of vessel traffic. For example, the number of passengers aboard polar cruise ships far exceeds the capacity of search and rescue assets, medical facilities and shelters needed to protect evacuees from the cold.

Factors Influencing the Future

A plausible future for Arctic marine tourism is that it will continue to grow, diversify and geographically expand as current obstacles are overcome. The most significant barriers influencing Arctic tourism include physical access, the ability of tourists to pay, the time and cost associated with traveling to remote destinations, the availability and capacity of infrastructure, environmental conditions and jurisdictional restraints that prohibit or restrict entry.

Arctic marine tourism’s most likely future is that larger numbers of tourists, traveling aboard increased numbers of ships of all types, will be spending more time at more locations. The Arctic’s environment, community infrastructure, social institutions and cultural values will be increasingly vulnerable to tourism-caused impacts. Simultaneously, Arctic governments, communities and businesses increasingly promote tourism and invest their resources to expand this type of economic development. The cruise ship industry, responding to the popularity of polar tourism and clear evidence of profitability, is committed to send more ships with larger passenger capacities to Arctic destinations. All of these significant investments and aggressive promotion by industry, governments and communities insures that Arctic marine tourism will continue to grow and that its management is essential.


    Arctic Council, 2009, Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), Arctic Council.©

    Search Guide [toggle]