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Don't let cruise ship profits sail away

The mid-1840s brought Sir John Franklin and his crew of 128 men to the Northwest Passage. As we know, they didn't fare so well.

More than 170 years later, huge cruise ships, each carrying hundreds of passengers, are routinely sailing into the Northwest Passage during the late summer.

This year 13 Nunavut communities will be ports of call for the growing tourism sector.

It's an awfully short season, running only from late July into September, but a whole lot happens within that brief window. Country-food providers have samples of local meats on hand for guests to taste. Cultural performers demonstrate Inuit drumming, dancing and throat-singing. Guides lead tours. Artists sell handmade wares.

The Department of Economic Development and Transportation is facilitating employment opportunities through its six-week Nalunaiqsijiit training program, helping to cultivate jobs for people to work onboard cruise ships as well as polar bear monitors, wildlife spotters, zodiac drivers, logistics planners and more.

In Gjoa Haven, the hamlet and Parks Canada organized the first Umiyaqtutt Festival three years ago and timed the week-long tribute to Inuit heritage and the Franklin expedition to coincide with the peak of cruise ship season.

These are all positives.

In some cases, there's more money to be made, however. Communities are entitled to charge service fees to cruise ships. These fees would help cover costs related to the use of local infrastructure, performances, guided tours and access to local sites of interest. Pond Inlet has successfully imposed service fees. At $50 per passenger last year, the community reaped $250,000, which it has chosen to reinvest in the tourism industry and job creation. Pond Inlet's hamlet council has raised the service fee to $75 per passenger this year and that hike isn't keeping cruise liners away in droves. Seventeen ships are scheduled to dock outside the north Baffin community over the next couple of months, by far the most of any Nunavut community.

The GN will be conducting surveys this summer to get a better understanding of cruise ship passenger spending habits. The 2015 exit survey wasn't very encouraging. It showed that the average cruise ship guest only left behind $692 in Nunavut. That's far less than all other categories of tourists, who spent in excess of $2,000 apiece.

Cruise ship operators insist that their guests tend to think of their vacations as “all inclusive.” In other words, they don't want to shell out for a bunch of extras.

For that reason, every Nunavut community ought to follow Pond Inlet's lead. The service fees that hamlets charge should be considered part of the price of a ticket that cruise ship passengers purchase at the outset. It's guaranteed money for the communities. In times when municipalities are often scrambling to find funds, this injection of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in cruise ship service fees would be a blessing.