Cruise ship industry uneven across Nunavut
Cape Dorset mayor unhappy about unexpected tourists
Nunavut’s chief tourism agency is spending considerable energy on developing Nunavut’s erratic cruise ship industry, yet it is still a business plagued with uncertainty.
Last week Matthew Saveajuk Jaw, the mayor of Cape Dorset, complained in an interview broadcast on CBC Radio about an unexpected visit by a cruise ship that saw hundreds of tourists take his community by surprise.
Oshuittuq Quvianatuliak, an employee of West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative Limited in Cape Dorset, told Nunatsiaq News that it “looked like they came from nowhere,” and said that his store would have prepared displays for the tourists if they knew they were coming.
As a result, only a few people bought carvings while they were in town, and not one local resident got a day’s works guiding tourists, or staging any kind of cultural performance.
It’s a story that Nunavut Tourism has heard before.
“We have no more control over cruise ship visitors than any visitors that come here,” Maureen Bundgaard, Nunavut Tourism’s executive director said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News last month.
Bundgaard, who has worked with cruise ships “since the first cruise ship arrived in Nunavut,” does her best to comb the Internet and call up cruise ship companies to find out who’s planning a visit, and when, but points out that “nobody has to tell us they’re coming.”
She keeps a hefty file of cruise itineraries in her Iqaluit office and calls individual community economic development officers, who mostly take the lead on organizing community visits, when she finds an exact date.
From there, it’s up to the CEDOs to communicate with the cruise ship companies to find out what sort of visit they’re interested in, and to learn about schedule changes, delays or cancellations.
Even if a CEDO gets the right contact information, and lets the company know what the community would like to do, it’s not always easy to organize a program that visitors will want to pay for.
Residents of Hall Beach expected to get their first cruise ship visit this summer, but Martha Gibbons, the CEDO for Hall Beach, says “the residents here weren’t quite ready yet so we moved it to next summer.”
In Hall Beach, Gibbons shares the responsibility for cruise ship visits with Mary Qanatsiaq, who works for the Sanariat Community Development Society, which was established last year to investigate ways the community could benefit from tourism.
Qanatsiaq says that the ship was cancelled until someone could be trained to serve as a tour guide for visitors.
“Next year, we’re thinking of putting up displays around historical sites and planning a day trip or half-day trip inland,” Qanatsiaq says.
Yet neither woman had contacted the cruise ship company to let them know that there would be no planned activities for visitors.
Qanatsiaq believed that Recreation Resources Ltd., a B.C.-based company that has been hired to develop a heritage site around the DEW Line in Hall Beach, was handling the situation. A spokesperson for RRL said that dealing with cruise ship companies was out of their scope.
A few communities have managed to build a well-coordinated industry. Pond Inlet, where Bundgaard first got started in the business, has years of experience with the industry and expects eight ships to stop in this summer to see the sights and enjoy the community programs on offer.
Business in Kimmirut is also running smoothly. That community has had two visits this year, and expects one more ship this month.
Last Friday, 90 tourists from the French ship, the Levant, came ashore between 10 and 12:30 a.m. Oolittua Judea, manager of the Katannilik Park Visitor’s Centre, took charge of the events.
“We hired some tour guides. They toured the tourists around the town giving info about the history of the town, and we also had demonstrators doing seal skinning, bannock-making, carving demonstrations, Inuit games, drum dancing, throat singing and traditional children’s games and songs.”
Kimmirut was helped by a training course offered by Nunavut Tourism.
Elisabeth Hadlari traveled from Cambridge Bay to Iqaluit in early July to teach an introductory cruise ship workshop to CEDOs from around Nunavut, including Gibbons. When the CEDO for Kimmirut, Kyra Fisher, heard about the workshops, she asked Hadlari to stop by the community on her way home.
Hadlari did stop by, and did a training workshop for 16 tour guides from Kimmirut, which covered what to expect from tourists, background information on cruise ship vacationers, and how to treat visitors.
Yet even when things are running smoothly for the cruise lines, Nunavummiut are not always benefiting.
Philip Manik, CEDO for Resolute Bay, says that the cruise ship business in his community has been run mainly through two outfitters, Narwhal Arctic Services and South Camp Enterprises, for the past two years. Manik is looking forward to next year when their contract ends and the municipality can get more involved.
“If we were in charge, we would probably employ more Inuit people,” Manik says.
And even if communications, logistics and personnel are worked out, the business itself is at the mercy of Arctic weather.
Ice conditions recently forced Canadian Tours International to cancel a visit to Arctic Bay this summer that the community’s economic development officer, Sheena Qaunak, had been planning since April.