Tourism industry: Lack of service and accessibility obstructs Greenlandic tourism

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Tourism in Greenland has risen over the last two years, but the country has hopes of even higher numbers in the future. (Photo: Mette Højmark Mikkelsen)

The Greenlandic self-government, Naalakkersuisut, has presented a strategy with the purpose of attracting more tourists to the country. Bigger airports take up a lot of space in the plan, but people in the tourism industry think a higher level of service has been overlooked.

By Mette Højmark Mikkelsen

The streets of the Greenlandic town Kangerlussuaq are empty. It is 9am, but still dark outside. Inside Greenlandic is being spoken among the staff in the breakfast room at a hotel. It is off-season and only few tourists have made their way to the country up north. Tours to the ice cap and the Russell Glacier are now weekly arrangements, but in the Summer season there are several excursions a day.

Greenland had 218,527 overnight stays at hotels last year, and most of them were in the Summer time. The Greenlandic self-government, Naalakkersuisut, wants that number to rise in the coming years. To create growth in the tourism industry, Naalakkersuisut is investing DKK 60 million in tourism development and has presented a national tourism strategy running from 2016 to 2020. People working with tourism believe the strategy is lacking focus of a higher level of service in the industry.

More activities for tourists
Ulla Lynge, director of Sermersooq Business Council, works with tourism development in the capital, Nuuk. She believes that Greenland needs to improve the level of service and be aware of the quality of their products to attract more tourists.

“For instance, when we have sold a boat tour, then we also have to complete it and not cancel it because one passenger is missing for the boat to be full,” Lynge says.

Improvement of the level of service is consistently being overlooked in the national tourism strategy, according to Carina Ren, member of the Tourism Research Unit at Aalborg University. Ren adds that Naalakkersuisut’s strategy is not looking into which options tourists have in terms of activities, tours, restaurants etc.

“One of the problems is that Naalakkersuisut is thinking mass tourism. That means runways, ports and cruise tourists. It is a lot of flights with people who are just supposed to topple out. It is not enough that people are coming to Greenland. They also have to spend money and do it in a reasonable way,” Ren says.

The leader of Demokraatit (the democrats), Randi V. Evaldsen, agrees that the level of service has been overlooked in the national tourism strategy. Demokraatit participated in the creation of the strategy as they were part of Naalakkersuisut, when it was made. In the end of October, Greenland got a new self-government and Demokraatit is no longer in it.

Evaldsen says that the level of service in restaurants, hotels and activities in the country is not high enough and that Greenland has to improve in this area for the tourism industry to grow.

That is music to Orry Cordero’s ears. Cordero is Mexican and visited Nuuk in February 2016. During his stay he found the level of tourism services such as activities and tours at a very poor level.


Greenlandic tourism compared to other Nordic countries.

Change in the educational system
In Kangerlussuaq, Jens-Pavia Brandt runs the tour agency Greenland Outdoors. Quality and service are very important factors to him when he makes hiking and kayaking tours, but he has to find the quality workers outside of Greenland.

“There are 500 inhabitants in Kangerlussuaq, and I do not know anyone here who can provide that kind of quality service that is required and necessary. I need to fly someone in from other places,” Brandt says.

To raise the numbers of local guides and employees in tourism, Naalakkersuisut has included education in the tourism strategy. Foreign language, sales and service are just some of the key words.

In 2007 Campus Kujalleq in southern Greenland opened tourism educations. A part of these programs is run by the national tourist agency, Visit Greenland. Their tuition is focused on basic tourism strategies such as branding and getting an understanding of how Greenland is perceived as a tourist destination.

More needs to be done, according to the leader of Demokraatit, Randi V. Evaldsen. Tourists expect to be served by Greenlanders, but the labour force in the sector is not big enough, Evaldsen says. She suggests a change of the tourism educations.

“The educational institution has to be more focused. I also think it could be smart to establish a higher education in tourism at the University of Greenland, because we want tourism to be a leading trade here,” Evaldsen says.

At the moment Greenlanders have to go to Denmark to get a higher education in tourism. Evaldsen adds that education and enhancing the qualifications of the workers in tourism is something Demokraatit works hard for.

The University of Greenland is aware of the need for higher educations in tourism and they are looking into possibilities of offering such. Right now the university is waiting for Naalakkersuisut to design and implement a new legislation enabling this to be possible.

Watch the video and find out what draws people to Greenland.

“Tourists pay our salaries”
Hotel Hans Egede in Nuuk has received 10 percent more guests this Summer compared to the same period last year. That is a general tendency in the country, and for that to be maintained Jørgen Bay-Kastrup, CEO at Hotel Hans Egede, points out two factors. Service and accessibility.

“We have to have an understanding and a readiness to serve right now, because it is now the customers are here. Tomorrow the clients might be gone. It is the customers who are in charge, because it is them who pay our salaries,” Bay-Kastrup says.

Bay-Kastrup is sure there will be more tourists to pay the Greenlanders’ salaries in the future, if the most talked about initiative in Naalakkersuisut’s tourism strategy becomes reality. It is about extending the runways in the airports of Nuuk and Ilulissat in order to make Greenland more accessible – both for tourists and the locals as there are no roads between the towns. With longer runways Nuuk and Ilulissat will be able to receive big international flights.

As it is now, both towns are directly connected with Iceland, but Kangerlussuaq is still the main entry to Greenland because of its almost daily flights to Copenhagen.

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No final time frame for airports
Kalaallit Airports is a joint-stock company incorporated by Naalakkersuisut in July 2016 to facilitate the establishment of the airports. Anders la Cour, deputy manager at Visit Greenland, calls it a “natural step” to do something about the infrastructure in Greenland.

“It is limiting only to have one main airport. We need to ensure the best possible accessibility to the country,” la Cour says.

La Cour underlines that it is important to set a time frame for the airports, so both the local and foreign operators can start preparing for a new scenario. Naalakkersuisut has not come with any indications on when the airports will be ready, but Leo Larsen, chairman of Kalallit Airports has previously told KNR, Greenlandic Broadcasting Cooperation, that he hopes the construction work can start in late 2018 or early 2019.

So far the financing of the airports has not fallen into place, and chairman of the Economic Council for Greenland, Torben M. Andersen doubts how much the airports will benefit Greenland. He believes that an expansion of the airports will strengthen tourism, but maybe not sufficiently

“The question is whether it will strengthen tourism to an extend that enables the airports to service the debt they will have to take on. There is a difference between getting more tourists to the country and it being socio-economic cost-effective,” Andersen says.

Randi V. Evaldsen from Demokraatit supports the airport project, but she knows that it takes more than that for Greenland to get more tourists.

“More tourists are not going to come just because of a longer runway. The service has to be improved and there has to be possibilities for tourists and attractions, you want to travel after,” Evaldsen says.

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