Many of the ships cruising in the Arctic have their own staff of lecturers and guides on board. They are hired to teach the passengers about the many faces of the Arctic and to guide them on shore. Also in Greenland, this practices are applied. But this could wind up problems for the local tourism industry.

Tourists of the MS Delphin standing around a little confused in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland
Tourists of the MS Delphin standing around a little confused in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland

The unexpected arrival of 400 German cruise-ship passengers earlier this week in Nuuk has touched off a debate in Greenland about whether cruise organizers are doing enough to hire local guides. The MS Delphin, which is operated by a German firm, reportedly arrived in Nuuk on Tuesday morning when it was unable to call on its planned destination due to ice conditions. When the passengers disembarked to tour the capital city’s historic colonial harbor, residents overheard the ship’s guides give wrong information about landmarks. Others reported being asked by guides whether a waterside sculpture of the Mother of the Sea, a key figure in Greenlandic mythology, was a copy of the Little Mermaid sculpture, located on the Copenhagen waterfront. The situation left many in Nuuk wondering why the ship – even if it had arrived on short notice – had not hired a local guide to show passengers around the town, or why it had not coordinated its early morning stop with merchants, many of whom had yet to open their doors when the passengers arrived.

On their webpage, the ship-owners promise to have renowned lecturers on board for their tours around the northern Polar Regions. According to the article, this doesn’t seem to be the case all the time.
On their webpage, the ship-owners promise to have renowned lecturers on board for their tours around the northern Polar Regions. According to the article, this doesn’t seem to be the case all the time.

Vertreter der Gesellschaft, die diese Kreuzfahrt organisiert hatten, äusserten sich auf Anfragen darüber in keiner Weise. Aber Ivik Knudsen-Ostermann, der Besitzer von Greenland Cruises, die solche Dienstleistungen für Kreuzfahrtschiffe anbietet, meinte, dass die MS Delphin versucht hatte, zu improvisieren. „Wenn sie nicht geplant hatten, in Nuuk anzulegen, ist es selbstverständlich schwierig zu wissen, was einem da erwartet“, erklärt er. Es ist sehr wahrscheinlich, dass die Szenen in Nuuk nur ein unglücklicher Zufall waren. Denn die MS Delphin war in der Vergangenheit mehrfach in Nuuk gewesen und nutzte bei ihrer Ankunft die Dienste von lokalen Führern bei Stadtbesichtigungen. Ausserdem seien die Führer des Schiffes auf der oben erwähnten Fahrt schon mehrfach in Grönland gewesen und hätten Kenntnisse über Land und Leute. Doch sowohl Passagiere wie auch Bewohner anderer Orte sagen, dass dies nicht zum ersten Mal passiert sei, dass sie unqualifizierte Guides und Orte, die nicht über die Ankunft informiert worden waren, erlebt hätten.

Often, local guides will not be hired for economic reasons. This often leads to frustrations and irritations among passengers on board.
Often, local guides will not be hired for economic reasons. This often leads to frustrations and irritations among passengers on board.

It is feedback like that that worries the tourism industry. In addition to lost job opportunities, businesses fear that the situation reflects badly on Greenland as a destination at a time when passenger numbers are falling. A number of firms offer native guides, many of whom are certified. When cruise operators chose not to use them, their rationale is likely two-fold. The most obvious is saving money. The other, according to Knudsen-Ostermann, whose company was not involved with the MS Delphin’s visit, is to avoid the logistical challenge of organizing guides at each location. The limited capacity of many local guides and expedition operators is another issue. “If a ship with 2,000 passengers comes to a town where the local guide can only take 200 people, they just skip it and try to do it themselves. The problem is, the people they have leading their tours are then someone whose real job is something else and who is just told to go out with a group of passengers.”

Savior’s Church is the most renown clerical building in Greenland’s capital of Nuuk. The building is a landmark and is situated in the colonial harbor, the oldest part of Nuuk. The church was built in 1848 and consecrated in 1849.
Savior’s Church is the most renown clerical building in Greenland’s capital of Nuuk. The building is a landmark and is situated in the colonial harbor, the oldest part of Nuuk. The church was built in 1848 and consecrated in 1849.

More funding from the Self-Rule Authority to train guides or mandating that ships have a local guide on board are two possible solutions. Neither, however, sits well with the industry. Knudsen-Ostermann, who himself leads tours in the towns of Sisimiut and Ilulissat, says there are guides enough; he is able to rely on a network he has recruited and which allows him to match a ship’s particular needs, such as language. Adding more guides to the labor pool for jobs that are only available a few months a year is more likely to create a glut, rather than jobs. Some cruises do hire local guides, either to sail on their vessels or to assist them in a port of call. Others have a local agent to co-ordinate all activities in Greenland. But all of those options add cost, and Greenland is already known in the industry as a pricey destination, due to the $100 landing fee assessed on each passenger aboard a ship. Forcing ships to pay for local guides could wind up doing more harm than good, reckoned a tour-operator representative who wished to remain anonymous, since it could result in ships making fewer ports of call or guiding their passengers to other countries entirely.

Quelle: Kevin McGwin, The Arctic Journal, http://arcticjournal.com