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Communities aim to make most of cruise ship visits

Nunavut's cruise ship tourism season sets sail on July 28 and Pond Inlet is once again in a position to reap substantial benefits.

Adventure Canada's vessel Ocean Endeavour, a mainstay on the Nunavut cruise ship circuit, will visit several communities in the territory in 2019. Mike Beedell/Adventure Canada photo

The community has increased the service fee to $75 per passenger this summer, up from $50 per passenger last summer. In 2018, a total of 22 cruise ship visits generated $250,000 in service fee revenue for the community. The bulk of that money has been reinvested in local jobs such as tour guides, country food distributors, shuttle bus drivers, cultural performers and artists, according to Ernest Merkosak, Pond Inlet's economic development officer.

Pond Inlet is expecting 17 cruise ship visits this year, by far the most of any Nunavut community.

“We have local businesses that are benefitting from this,” Merkosak said of the injection of visitor expenditures.

He added that the Hamlet of Pond Inlet has a pot of $10,000 to purchase local art that it sells at the gift shop in the community's visitors centre. Artists and craft-makers are also able to do business directly with tourists, Merkosak acknowledged.

Thirteen communities are set to receive cruise ships in 2019: Arctic Bay, Cambridge Bay, Cape Dorset, Coral Harbour, Gjoa Haven, Grise Fiord, Iqaluit, Kimmirut, Kugluktuk, Pangnirtung, Pond Inlet, Qikiqtarjuaq and Resolute.

To gain a better and more up-to-date understanding of the monetary boost that cruise ships provide, the Department of Economic Development and Transportation (ED&T) will launch an exit survey this summer. Summer students and various GN staff will pose questions to passengers about spending habits.

There are some data that have already been gleaned over the past few years.

“We know that from every (cruise ship) visit to a community, between 20 and 40 community members directly benefit,” stated Sebastian Charge, manager of Tourism Development for ED&T. “We also know that cruise passenger spending can be sporadic. In some communities they may buy nothing, in others they may generate tens of thousands in direct purchases buying marine mammal products – if possible to import to their country – prints, carvings, and hand-sewn items such as mittens and kamiiks in just a couple of hours. The 2015 Visitor Exit Survey estimated spending of $670 per passenger per voyage.”

Charge added that cruise operators often work with the Nunavut Development Corporation and Inuit arts organizations and galleries to purchase items in bulk for their gift shops or as gifts for their passengers; they commission pieces of arts to display on their ships; and passengers donate to charitable foundations, via onboard auctions or other means, that are paired with causes in Nunavut.

Maximizing compensation

In Cambridge Bay, assistant senior administrative officer Jim MacEachern sees more advantages than disadvantages to cruise ships.

“There's no question that there's disruption to the community when cruise ships come in but Cambridge Bay's always been very supportive of cruise ship visitors as long as it's a win-win,” he said, adding that the community's caterers, throat-singers, dancers and other performers and guides “like sharing their culture, knowledge and traditions... (and) our main goal is to ensure that all those people involved are compensated, and compensated as well as possible.”

Art sales is another way to put money in residents' pockets but one challenge is ensuring enough pieces are available during cruise season because artists don't tend to stockpile work, according to MacEachern.

At a GN-sponsored tourism summit in Iqaluit in April, there was talk of educating passengers to keep community disruption to a minimum, MacEachern noted.

“Don't walk in the middle of the road and block traffic for two hours, don't walk into somebody's cabin or their house unless you're invited, don't take pictures unless people give permission,” he said of some of the advice that cruise ship companies are being asked to relay to their guests.

Cambridge Bay is expecting seven cruise ship visits this year, the second-most among Nunavut communities. The hulking passenger vessels were shut out of the Kitikmeot community last year due to unusually thick ice.

To the west in Kugluktuk, a 198-passenger cruise ship is expected to pull in on Sept. 2 so passengers can disembark at the end of their journey and then the vessel will set off on a new adventure with a different group of tourists. That's the extent of cruise ship activity on the calendar in Kugluktuk. Mayor Ryan Nivingalok would embrace greater numbers.

“I'd welcome that,” he said. “We have a cultural centre that's open and people carving and sewing, but it's really up to them in the end if they want to come or not.”

Fact file
Employment for cruise trainees
-The GN's six-week Nalunaiqsijiit Inuit Cruise Training Initiative graduated 10 participants in 2017, nine of whom worked on board ships in 2018. No training program was offered in 2018.
-Of the 12 trainees from 2019, eight have lined up work on cruise ships in Nunavut and two have found jobs in Greenland
-Four 2019 trainees are scheduled to go to Antarctica in January and February to take Quark Expedition's intensive staff training program.
-Among the roles that Nalunaiqsijiit trainees fill are guiding passengers during shore excursions, leading kayak trips, driving zodiacs, polar bear monitoring and wildlife spotting, delivering lectures and presentations on board, aiding in logistics planning and functioning as community liaisons.
Source: Department of Economic Development and Transportation