Warmer Arctic could give boost to cruise tourism

Cruise vessels at port in Kirkenes on the coast to the Barents Sea.

But a rapid growth in Arctic cruise tourism is a myth, says the cruise operators.


“Climate change has increased the prevalence of cruise tourism throughout Greenland, Norway, Alaska and Canada because of decreasing sea ice extent,” says the IPCC climate change report released on Monday. 

Not totally so, according to figures given to BarentsObserver by the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO). The figures are compiled from authorities at Svalbard, Greenland, Canada and Russia, and show that the actual only Arctic destination with an increase in number of cruise vessel passengers is Svalbard. Russian Arctic, north coast of Canada and Greenland all have more or less the same number of visitors today as nine years ago. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns about potential risks with increased cruise tourism, including accidental pollution from accidents and increasing likelihood of introduction of alien species to terrestrial environment. 

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators argues that a false notion of the actual number of visitors has the potential of creating too high expectations both in regards to opportunities and risks. Governments might put too large emphasis on business opportunities, while authorities may consider the need for new regulations based on incorrect presumptions. 

“Expedition cruise tourism can be a driver of environment protection and a better local economy – if measures are based on facts and if operators, local communities and regulators work together,” says Frigg Jørgensen, Executive Director of AECO.

In Murmansk, the work is already underway on upgrading the central harbor to serve the expected increase in cruise tourism to the Arctic. Development of cruise tourism in the Arctic is one of the strategic targets for Russian Arctic national park, today covering areas like Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya. Russia want to see their Arctic islands develop in the same way as the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard that for decades has been a key destination for international expedition cruising.