Making the most of the visit
Communities looking for more from cruise ship visits

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 08/97) - It's a mutually beneficial relationship, but from the perspective of communities along the way, one that could be better balanced.

Cruise liners have for years been plying arctic waters but the industry is fairly new here.

Typically, communities get an average of two or three cruise ships each summer. In Alaska, where cruises have been visiting since the 80s, the number of visits to host communities are measured in the hundreds.

Passengers pay upwards of $30,000 for luxurious voyages to the places and waters that were once the scene of the life and death struggles to find the Northwest Passage.

A component of each arctic cruise is visits to Northern communities. The visits typically last only half a day.

Through arrangements with companies organizing the cruises, communities provide visitors with demonstrations of traditional culture.

"It's somewhat one-sided," said Norm Meek, regional product development co-ordinator for Nunavut Tourism.

"They're an important aspect of tourism in the North. The challenge is convincing the cruise managers to spend more time in the communities and provide more economic benefits to the community."

Meek said cruise liners pay a "nominal" fee, distributed to the dancers, singers, story-tellers and exhibitors who participate.

Though communities slated to be visited are notified of possible arrival dates well in advance, the weather wild card makes all dates, and the visit itself, tentative.

"You don't know for sure when they're coming until the anchor's dropped," said Marion Glawson of the trade and investment division of the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development.

Glawson co-ordinates much of the entertainment offered to guests of cruise ships coming into Cambridge Bay.

"I don't sleep when cruise ships are coming in," said Glawson. As soon as a ship arrives, she must contact performers, who are on the land much of the time during the summer months.

From the time the 200 or so crew and passengers of a ship set foot on land to the time they leave, the resources of each community are strained to the maximum, providing tours of the town, steering guests to phones, mail services and the visitors centre and encouraging them to visit local shops.

Making the most of visits also means having on hand a good supply of the things tourists want, such as souvenirs.

Glawson noted that the cruise liners arrive around the same time Northern stores and co-ops are organizing or receiving the annual sealift deliveries that bring a year's worth of inventory to be sold to residents.

It doesn't make economic sense for them to devote time and resources to a four-hour visit.

"We're saying 'We can give you more, but you have to stay longer,'" said Glawson of RWED and Nunavut Tourism's view of cruise ship visits.

"More" comes in the form of trips out onto the land, fishing, flying tours, as well as meals and merchandise. The benefit for the community, of course, is more tourism dollars.

That view is being pushed by Nunavut Tourism representatives at marketing, trade and consumer shows in Europe and North America.

And the North has some bargaining power where the cruise ships are concerned.

As Meek noted, "there are not that many communities in Nunavut that have the right sea conditions to host a large ship, so there is a certain amount of bargaining power there."