Tourism, nature and culture in Greenland – telling and selling a story of many ties

Text: Carina Ren

Nature is interweaved into the Greenlandic society in ways that are often characteristic of indigenous cultures. As tourism is gaining increasing attention and traction in Greenland, the question is how tourism actors can innovate and narrate tourism products and experiences in new ways to reflect the entanglements of humans, culture and nature.

Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Visit Greenland, the public organization responsible for marketing tourism to Greenland, already acknowledges the inseparable bonds between nature and people. They describe their brand ‘Pioneering Nation’ as the “core story of Greenland (…) about the relationship between nature and people. The key concepts in the nation brand are ‘Powerful & Pioneering’ – nature’s might and man’s pioneering spirit and the relationship between the two” (Visit Greenland, 2014).

Still, while destination offers in Greenland have understandably been shaped by the nations’ unique nature attractions, such as the UNESCO-listed ice fjord in Ilulissat, there are far less tourism products and services, which more explicitly incorporate Greenlandic culture. According to many of the stakeholders already consulted as part of the first ARCTISEN activities, more work is needed in developing and narrating tourism experiences acknowledging the dynamic relationship between nature and culture.

Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Both tradition and modernity is reflected in the communities and everyday lives of Greenlanders, often surprising some visitors. As argued by many tourism stakeholders, striking a good balance between ‘old and new’ and making the dynamic expressions of Greenlandic culture more prominent in the tourism product, is crucial. So is, many argue, communicating it to tourists coming from afar and often with little knowledge of Inuit culture and contemporary, everyday life in Greenland.

As part of the Centre for Innovation and Research in Culture and Living in the Arctic (CIRCLA) at Aalborg University, associate professor Carina Ren and postdoc Mette Abildgaard will work on digital capacity building with a focus on these perceived needs for more culturally sensitive tourism. Together with local partners, the Arctic Circle Business in Sisimiut and the Sermersooq Business Council in Nuuk and their network of Greenlandic tourism entrepreneurs and start-ups, they will be working on this task in Greenland for the next two years.

During that time, Sami and Greenlandic tourism actors will also gain inspiration and knowledge, share stories and strengthen relations in the common work of building knowledge and collaboration in culturally sensitive tourism. This will happen through the development of online courses and digital learning material based on both pan-Arctic and local case, experiences, learnings.