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Tourism in Greenland

Happiness is an add-on

Nuuk is hoping that good connections and better marketing will help it take advantage of Iceland's tourism boom
Not one direction

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When looking for inspiration for its 2016-2020 tourism strategy, Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s elected government, need only look east, accross the Denmark Strait, for inspiration.

The strategy, which was published for public review earlier this month, has studied Iceland’s tourism industry in the hopes that it can tap into a boom that has seen a trebling in the number of visitors there in the past 15 years. Tourism now ranks one of the country’s two primary sources of income (the other is fishing).

Over a million foreigners arrived in Iceland in 2015, a figure that is 20 times higher than the number for Greenland, and Nuuk’s strategy seeks to find ways to encourage people to add a Greenlandic destination to their Icelandic holiday.

“Iceland’s tourism industry has grown at an explosive rate. If we want to build on this growth, it would be of particular importance for us to improve flight connections between Iceland and Greenland, as well as to work together on marketing,” the strategy states.

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The number of flights between the two countries is set to grow, but from a bare minimum. Year-round flights connect Reykjavík with Kulusuk and Ittoqqortoormiit, on Greenland’s eastern coast, as well as with Nuuk. During the summer, there is also service to Ilulissat and Narsarsuaq.

In 2016, Air Iceland, the country’s domestic carrier, will begin service between Keflavík and Kangerlussuaq. Air Greenland, a state-controlled firm, has plans of its own to open a route between Ilulissat and Keflavík next year.

Greenland tourism is beginning to show signs of benefitting from the Icelandic growth, but the new routes alone will not be enough to lure more Icelandic holiday-makers, the strategy finds. Instead, it suggests redoubling co-operation with Iceland to market the two countries as a package of destinations.

“One bright point (in Greenland’s otherwise stagnant tourism industry) has been the knock-on effect of Iceland’s significant tourism growth. This growth has come through a years-long effort by the Greenlandic and Icelandic turism industries. It would only make sense, then, to devote a significant proportion of the coming years’ marketing efforts to promoting combined Iceland-Greenland holidays.”

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Even though Greenland has seen an increase in the number of travellers coming as part of an Icelandic holiday, the strategy described the number as disappointingly low, in comparison with the gain that could have been realised.

While travel experts agree that there is some gain to be had by marketing Greenland as an add-on to Iceland travel, Anders la Cour Vahl, the deputy-director of Visit Greenland, the national travel board, warns against relying too much on add-on travel. According to a survey carried out by his organisation, the two destinations tend to appeal to different types of travellers.

“As a destination, Greenland competes with destinations like New Zealand, Antarctica or Africa,” Mr Vahl said in September, during Vestnorden Travel Mart, an industry sales event for Greenlandic, Icelandic and Faroese tourism firms.

Greenland, he reckons, can successfully be marketed as an add-on for people spending a week in Iceland, but these travellers are likely to spend less time, and by extension, less money, in the country than if Greenland was their primary destination.

“A tourist isn’t a tourist,” Mr Vahl said. “There are probably a lot of people who want to make a quick hop to Ilulissat and spend three days there so they can tick Greenland off their list, but others would be turned off by this. It’s a matter of understanding your visitors.”

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Among the strategy’s other recommendations are a proposal to reduce airport fees to a level similar to those charged by Iceland and Svalbard.

Marketing efforts, the report recommends, should also be focused on promoting Greenland as a tourism destination in Germany, the UK, Canada, the US and Asian countries. The strategy notes that these countries are some of Iceland’s primary markets, and that they are seeing high rates of growth in the number of people travelling abroad.

Attracting travellers from those countries would also help Greenland diversify its pool of potential visitors. Currently, 51% of tourists in Greenland are from Denmark.

Additional reporting by Niels Ole Qvist.