Tourist images, motivation and perceptions. A profile of the arctic tourist

by Daniela Tommasini

Since ancient times the Arctic has represented a remote, unreachable, fearful place. The attraction of these places with their abundance of natural beauties is bringing an increasing number of tourists, demanding more infrastructures and facilities.

Greenland, as well as other arctic regions, is planning for tourism development.
The governments see tourism as the possibility of economic development for the Arctic Regions. There is a real possibility to reach the limits of the sustainability in a short time.
A profile of the arctic tourist may contribute to the evaluation of the big, environmental and cultural value of the polar regions. Knowing the identity of the arctic tourist may aid to establish criteria and baselines for other arctic areas involved in tourism, for an increasing awareness of sustainable development through an alternative fully sympathetic form of tourism in fragile ecosystems.

The development of tourism in the Arctic
Fascination with the Far North has attracted many individuals to adventure there. Tourism activity in the Arctic has a relatively long history, but the last two decades have seen a rapid expansion of tourism activity in the polar regions. A combination of factors, including improved accessibility, increased technology, changes in consumer preferences and the never-ending search for new places has made the Poles highly attractive places. Although numbers are still low compared to those in other tourist destinations, hundred of thousands of tourists visit (destinations in) the northern circumpolar regions every year. There is a great variation within the region: for example numbers of visitors at North Cape equate to mass tourism in the arctic context.

Access play a key role in the development of tourism in the northern circumpolar world: transportation routes enable travellers to reach northern destinations, and also encourage the establishment of tourism facilities and services in particularly sensitive places (Johnston, 1995).

The polar regions are highly attractive places to visit, and an increasing number of tourists are seeking to visit these remote regions in order to experience "relatively undisturbed natural history, impressive natural beauty, and interesting cultural and historic features". However, the polar regions are fragile environments, vulnerable to invasion of tourists, like other wilderness areas (Hall & Johnston, 1995).
The Arctic for many tourists is clean, pristine, and a vast wilderness destination (Kaltenborn, Bronstead, 1992).

The media have played an important role: nature oriented polar documentaries and books are part of the development of greater environmental awareness in the Western society. Wilderness areas are prime attractions to travellers who are seeking "green". adventure" or "ecotourism experiences" .

Tourists perceptions
Tourists want to see the midnight sun and momentary experience the geographic conditions in the "last frontier".
"To most tourists, the Arctic is a once-in-a-lifetime visit, and it is ironic that the peak season tourism occurs in summer when warm, sunny days, flowering tundra and ice-free seas are nearly the antithesis of tourist expectations. Despite the industry efforts to promote off-season tourism, few individuals participate because they fear the very conditions they wish to know" (Smith, 1989: 57).

The image of polar wilderness is a cultural construction, and this perception of the Arctic being a virtually undeveloped area makes it attractive to those in search of wilderness. This mythology of the Arctic and of the North continues to attract hundred of thousands of tourists each year (Johnston 1995).

A component of the Arctic image of the tourists is the "feeling of purity" (Viken,1993:6). The mystic symbolism of the polar environment allows contemplationabout the wider universe, and also about the individual, delicate components of a fragile ecosystem. (Sugden, 1989)

The first motivation of tourists in the Arctic nowadays is the wilderness of the landscapes, its huge and not too much polluted areas, and its mysterious character. This region is exotic in view of its fascinating landscapes of tundra, icebergs, huge fjords, its ice- cap ands its marvellous animals such as polar bears, musk ox and whales. This trend reflects the growing public awareness of the fragility of the environment and the development of green tourism. Tourists feel concerned by the conservation of nature and want to experiment the rare destinations that are not yet polluted.

Another motivation is adventure. Some travellers need farther distances, extreme sensations and to surpass their own previous achievements. To climb glaciers and hike where they hope other humans will not have left a mark. They travel to the most remote and untouched places where their activities, however limited, may disturb wildlife (Osherenko, Young, 1989). This appeal for adventures has been emphasised by sport expeditions, popularised by the media. These trends to go where only explorers have been before can be seen as a snobbish attitude, following a fashion just as for the demand of ecotourism.

The Arctic is also attractive because of the quite relatively unknown local people. Visitors wish to meet Inuit and discover their culture, folklore and way of life.

Despite the common desire of the tourists "to see how Eskimos really live" few have face-to-face interaction with Eskimos aside from the few natives hired to serve and entertain them, and then only in passing. (Smith, 1989:60)

Greenland towards the development of tourism
In 1953 Greenland's status as colony changed; it became a Danish province and the authorities decided to open up certain areas to tourism. The real beginning of the "tourism industry" dates back to 1959 when charter flights became available to Narsarsuaq in the south and to Kulusuk in the east, where there were American bases with landing strips. The opportunities brought by tourism led to the creation of or improvements to accommodation capacity and connections.

From the seventies onwards Greenland, which became independent in 1979, was more and more involved in the decision-making process regarding the development of "its" tourism. With the co-operation of the Danish Tourism Board presences reached a record of 10,000 in 1981, but a series of unfortunate events such as unsuitable marketing decisions and the international ban on fur traders and producers led to a drastic reduction in these figures to the 3,300 presences in 1987. In the same period, Greenland Home Rule (GHR, the Greenlandic government) had to face a whole series of difficulties, primarily unemployment caused by the crisis in the fishing and fish processing industries (95% of exports) and the closure of the zinc and lead mine at Maarmorilik. Although the public sector absorbs 2/3 of total workforce , the number of unemployed is on the increase (12.3% in 1994). At present, tourism appears to be the only potential development area (Trade and Industry in Greenland, 1995).

The planning of tourism in Greenland
In 1990 the Greenland Landsting (Greenland Parliament) approved a tourism development plan as far as 2005. The analysis was based on the tourism resources and the attractions of Greenland. The objective is to reach 30-35,000 tourist presences for the year 2005 so that tourism can become the main industry and can replace the income and jobs lost with the decline of the fishing industry, reduce unemployment and absorb the growth in the workforce. In the end, tourism should be profitable enough to do without public subsidies (Masterplan, vol. II, 1991).

At present, the tourism industry in Greenland is of small dimensions (a few thousand visitors a year) and does not employ more than 150 people out of a total population of 55,000. Expectations for 2005 point to between 2,500 and 3,000 people employed in tourism (Masterplan 2.5.1.).

According to this document, the typical tourist identity belongs to the "few but wealthy" category, well disposed to spending, which is considered ideal given the vulnerability of the arctic environment and the limited capacity of accommodation in the local communities. Favourable factors for the increase of tourism are the unique and uncontaminated nature, the arctic environment and the Eskimo culture. Among the weaker points are: the high level of investment costs and the inadequate transport conditions to and from Greenland; limited mobility and inadequate accommodation facilities; the extremely short tourist season and the meteorological conditions; the impression of the rest of the world that environmental protection in Greenland is inadequate, the lack of trained personnel and low awareness "of tourism" on part of the local population.

The document suggests aiming towards solutions which do not require heavy investments and infrastructures. the key words are control, guidance and limitations, if tourism is not to create problems" (Masterplan 1.3.4.) without specifying what the solutions might be, except the fact that nature needs to be protected because it is strategic from a tourism point of view (Masterplan 1.3.4.).
Traditional capital intensive development models appear difficult to apply; Greenland is subject to extreme and strict conditioning in many ways and beside, compared to similar destinations, travelling and staying in Greenland is generally expensive.

It should be remembered that tourism remains a new industry; training and awareness of the industry on part of the Inuit people are inadequate. Key positions are currently occupied by Danes and the seasonal tourism activity coincides with summer, the period of greater work opportunities in other areas.

Geographically, tourism is divided, with 40% of presences in South Greenland (zone 2.) with a long tradition of tourism; 30% in the Disco Bay (zone 4.), where tourism is growing fast; 20% on the East Coast (zone 3.) which currently boasts the highest number of day tourists; and 10% in Central Greenland (zone 1.), where the redevelopment of the decommissioned American base is planned.
The present client base is mostly from Denmark and Germany which are also considered the main markets for the future (Masterplan

Ammassalik, East Greenland: image, tourist motivation and perceptions
This investigation carried out in summer 1995 and 1996 undertook a behavioural examination of those visiting an arctic tourism destination.

The research field chosen was Ammassalik located on the East Coast of Greenland.
This area has the first contacts with Europeans on 1884 with the Gustav Holm expedition (Konebadsekspeditionen). Quite isolated until the recent times, Ammassalik, in the tourist image, represents a cold place with a magnificent pure nature and an intact culture to discover: the real last frontier.

Tourism has started concretely in the 70s with the construction of the hotel (who still remains the only one) and the collaboration with Icelandic airlines has brought the package tourism to Ammassalik. Actually, the number of tourists visiting the town is about 1,500.

The village of Kulusuk represents a special case. The airport was built in this small island in 1959 as American base; a little later, the charter tourism began in Kulusuk; for one day the tourists come from Iceland and visit the village of Kulusuk, for about 1 hour, walk around, buy some souvenirs and go back to the air strip with sledge or by boot; actually there are 300 inhabitants and 3,500 tourists each summer.

The main objective of this study was to provide a baseline profile of the arctic tourist. To focus tourist motivation and satisfaction (on-site behaviours, expectations, first hand experiences, evaluations, etc.), but other areas were explored including spatial perception, knowledge of local culture, reaction to promotional material, quality of life, and authenticity of tourist experience. Attitudes and behaviour towards members of the host society, and the willingness to fraternise with the natives were examined too.

The second step of this study is to try to establish criteria which would determine the carrying capacity, both physical and social, for an arctic tourism destination like Ammassalik, relatively new to tourism experience. To meet the tourists visiting this area allows reporting on the predisposition towards alternative forms of tourism. At the same time, great importance is attached to the contact with people involved with tourism and tourists (guides etc.) to obtain information and suggestions about positive and negative effects of tourism, and the relationship between cultural and natural environment.

Deep interviews were considered the best way to describe such an experience that can seldom be repeated, and the emphasis of the answers, the stress of the impressions, the abundance of adjectives used demonstrated the good choice. Especially about describing the first impression, the estimated most important fact occurred, the satisfaction level and the fulfilment of the expectations.

"Alternative" tourists plan for an arctic vacation almost some months before the trip. Package tourists sometimes decide "at the last minute" (in Iceland). The tourists relied more heavily on travel agents and printed material such as brochures and publications from Greenland Tourism. Also important is the role of friends being here before and to have read some books.

Tourist activities: sightseer, visit the settlements, leisure activities; have a short stay in a different culture.
The arctic tourist is not inclined to return to the same place.

Most of the tourists were caught up in the fascination of the long days, interested in the changes taking place in the Arctic; tourists appreciated the opportunity to see wild flowers and enjoyed the contact with the Inuit population; they were disappointed not to find igloos and surprised to find most Inuit living in a western style.

1. The representation of the place (question: your mind (idea) of this place before?) is a construction with the classical images: snow, cold, ice connected with the search for sensations which exceed the every-day life and with the curiosity of the far, the other, the different (22%). The Arctic in the west tourist's perceptions is always a cold and winter place: 39% imaged Ammassalik as a more cold, white, snowing place. But Ammassalik is visited mostly in summer when sunny days, flowers and mild weather are at the opposite with the constructed representation. The arctic landscape is the first element of the attraction. It forms the first impression and fulfils the expectations for more than half of the answers (52%). This attraction to the natural elements was confirmed at the end of the vacation too, the natural beauties still remain the focus. 62% said that the most important thing was "the nature", which means all the elements of the natural landscape: icebergs, inland ice (ice cap), ice pack, fjords, mountains, and flowers... This topic is so strongly a part of the representation that to the 3-day tourists it is a must (95%) to visit at least three elements: iceberg, ice- cap and a village.

2. The search for a simple, bucolic situation which can take you back to a original, ancient way of life was quested. 28% wish to experience situations close to the nature and to the culture. It seems like a nostalgic search for sensations lost in a western way of life (4% was disappointed to find such a modern lifestyle).

These answers were given before the visit to the settlements (who still live in a traditional way). After the visit some different opinions came out. There is a contradiction between representation and reality: great was the arrival, by boat to the village (after some hours sailing in a superb landscape with every different kind of iceberg, and then the boat sails into the fjord, and suddenly these small coloured houses appear, with the ice cap just behind). The feelings were difficult to describe, the expectations and the reality are on the same level, but the visit of the village reveals something that has no place in the representation made before.

What the tourist sees is not part of the goals of the holiday. It is not only the lack of any tourist service or infrastructure. There is the big contrast between reality and imagination. It has to be recognised that the every-day life here is not so attractive as imagined. The dream of the simple life close to the nature has to be replaced with the evidence of the isolation and the solitude of these places, with the awareness of the marginal living conditions and the social degradation. To the 10% to become acquainted with such problems it was such an unexpected experience that surpasses elements like the beauty of the landscape, and a feeling of sadness marks the holiday.

3. About travel motivations there is also the wish to meet another culture, 22% decided to come to East Greenland attracted by the culture. The cultural interest is second only to the 29% of the attraction for the nature. But this interest is not due to special readings or information. 81% declared to have mighty little, practically no information about that. They appear more to have heard what friends have told, or they have read short information from the travel agencies. The knowledge is more about the physical beauties and attractions rather than the local culture. The culture is felt as something to meet on the place. Only the few who stayed for a long time had read some literature about it (58%).

This lack of knowledge about tradition and way of life of the local population did that the tourists had some negative attitudes about facts or behaviours they had seen. The Inuit sometimes show some stress symptoms (reacted negatively to) about the behaviour of the tourists, guests who react in a negative way without knowing the meaning and the necessity of some actions. For example, about hunting, or the way to do with the sledge dogs or the nourishment habit. 55% did not buy traditional souvenirs because they were made of seal skin and bones and Tupilaks because they found it ugly, without knowing the symbolic meaning of these objects.

About trying the traditional food, most (69%) do not think about and declare that they do not want to try anything. Only a few, 19%, bought food directly from the hunters or were invited to eat with the hunters themselves (traditional food like mattak, seal, fishes).

60% of the tourists did not have any contact with the Inuit, because they did not find that necessary. This is especially the package tourist. For 3 or 4 days in Greenland, the hotel provides everything for them: excursions, entertainment and souvenirs. On the other hand 29% meet the people to buy something or to organise some trips. 4% wish to meet the Inuit but was afraid to disturb or to go too heavily into the private life.

Conflicts between host and guests imply for instance that the Inuit refuse contact and photographing with hunted seals or whales. Most of them prefer to hunt and fish far away from tourist access. In summer women erected barricades to shield their work from tourist eyes.
The village of Ikateq, located on the same island of the town is the most easily accessible and consequently the most visited. A reaction was noted of the local inhabitants toward the tourists. It seems that the 25 inhabitants react quite hostile to the visits of the tourists and a particular form of protest against this intrusion is set up. Tourists reported that at the arrival the village looked closes up, ghostly. The locals closed the doors and refused any contact. It has to be said that summer is peak season for the hunters. But the closing of the doors maybe is a self-explanatory sign.
For a sustainable polar tourism development

Tourism is a combination of leisure and recreation as well as human travel and sightseeing . It is known that all tourism, whether of the mass packaged type or the supposedly more environmentally friendly ecotourism has an impact on landscape and culture.

Much tourism occurs in locations which are particularly sensitive to change, eg. the Arctic.
Tourism can contribute to environmental degradation and be self-destructive , be a "Landschaftsfresser" (landscape devourer) (Krippendorf, 1987). It requires land, produces waste, litter and sewage, makes use of water resources (May, 1991). Tourism accelerates the changes, alters the local inhabitants' evaluation of their environment and their way of life. Tourism is dynamic, causes changes and impacts, is an industry, and cannot easily be reversed (Butler 1991).

At the same time tourism can be a powerful force to encourage heritage and environmental preservation . If one of the big issues for the future of tourism is how to limit damage to the environment it has also to be a possibility for the local communities to obtain some benefits from tourism development.

Tourism holds promise for communities which might have no other way to bring in revenue, and indeed, for communities which might be losing other industries (e.g. Svalbard) (Johnston 1995: 36). Tourism can increase indigenous jobs, foreign exchange reserves, cultural preservation and education. Deleterious tourist impacts involve human displacement, subsistence disruption, social conflict, loss of autonomy, dependency, crime and other disturbances of the lost culture. (Mansperger, 1995: 87)
Despite the expectation of local peoples and governments that tourism will benefit communities and regions, the potentials of negative impacts associated with it are numerous and some of them are more problematic in small, remote arctic settlements than they are in larger road-accessible locations (Milne 1995). The nature of the impacts is related to the particular form of tourism and the activities engaged by the participants. One of the main concerns is the large proportion of economic leakage associated with polar tourism: little local employment is generated, and most of the tourist payment for transportation and package tours accrues to the airline and tour operators, usually located outside the region (Smith, 1993). This is usual for the tourism in Greenland, Arctic Canada, Svalbard and Alaska.

Local communities at present do not have many direct benefits from tourism, except for the increase of some services during the tourist season. Very few individuals employed for seasonal tourism (hotel, guides) have personally profited by this industry.

With reference to the Ammassalik topic, for instance, only 4 outfitters are operating in the all area, and the local population's direct benefits from tourism are only the revenues from the occasional selling of carved souvenirs.

Sometimes massive influxes of visitors can be overwhelming for a small community. It is supposed that cruise visitors can bring money, but it also costs money to provide services for them, and some communities are not very pleased about a massive arrive of tourists. The locals feel that even occasional visits of a cruise ship are too disrupting or disturbing. In 1995, for instance, Ammassalik experienced the adventure of a French ship owner who brought 450 tourists in town for 10 hours. The population got confused and could not really understand what was going on: many went to the harbour to take a look of this big amount of tourists who walked around in town, went to the shop to buy fresh fruits and goods (the supply ship just arrived after 9 months!) and sat down at noon in the only place where usually Greenlanders meet.

It is well known that host peoples' level of tolerance for the presence and behaviour of tourists has been surpassed in some locations, and the social carrying capacity has been overreached, in fact not all tourist zones exhibit the same degree of fragility or of resilience. Some may permit only very low levels of tourist incursion; others may be able to withstand a much greater scale and intensity of development.

In certain destinations with fragile economies and cultures, which can easily be disrupted by an over-insurgence of visitors, the over-capacity created can have great consequences not only on the physical and environmental aspects but also on the social, cultural and economic systems of the destination.
Without control and responsibility there is almost inevitably the overreaching of some or all capacity limits which include both environmental and human elements (Butler 1994).

A decision to limit or to encourage tourism development should take into account economic circumstances and physical parameters as well as human concerns (Pigram, 1994). In the development of new projects, cost-benefit analyses should be adopted to see at what level the project would be financially viable. However, correct levels of carrying capacity must be adopted to preserve the economic, physical, ecological, social and cultural balance within the society. The capacity may be reflected in a number of ways, not only environmental (water supply, land availability, access infrastructure) or plant and animal wildlife capability to withstand disturbance, but also the willingness of the resident population to accept the impacts of visitors.

The concept of carrying capacity has been available for tourism planners for many years. Tourism carrying capacity is envisaged as the capacity of the destination area to absorb tourism before negative impacts are felt by the host country. Is the limit the number of tourists that can be accommodated without creating negative environmental effects or how many tourists are required rather than how many touristscan be attracted? (O'Reilly, 1986). This links the question of resource use, renewability, and the issue of scale. Capacity cannot be used as an absolute limit but as a means to identify critical thresholds which need attention and by so doing removing obstacles where possible or applying controls. Capacity can be considered as a part of a systematic strategy plan for the development of tourism.

According to Mason (1994) maybe for too long operators as well as developers and tourists have viewed the earth (e.g. the Arctic) as a playground rather than a fragile resource that needs to be carefully managed.

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Fig. 1. Tourism zones planned in Greenland. Source: Trade and Industry in Greenland, 1995
Fig. 2. The Ammassalik district. Source: Ammassalik, Kalaalit Nunaat
Table 1. Growth of tourism at North Cape and the North West Territories 1988-1992. Source: Hall & Johnston, 1995
Table 2. Number of tourists in some arctic regions. Source: Hall & Johnston 1995