Pond Inlet blew up its tourism numbers this summer, with 4,384 cruise ship passengers visiting the community.
“That’s three times the amount of people here,” said manager of the Nattinak Visitor’s Centre and community tourism coordinator Ernest Merkosak.
“It was very busy year for us. We had a record-setting cruise ship summer.”
The community was far ahead of any other as a cruise-ship stop, with 26 such ships making the stop. The next busiest locations were supposed to be Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Resolute and Iqaluit at seven cruise ships, though, as previously reported, extensive ice in the Queen Maud Gulf prevented any cruise ships from getting into Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay.
Activities are essentially the same for all visitors to Pond Inlet.
“We do provide a guided tour around the community and a tea and bannock service next to the sod house, with traditional heather,” said Merkosak.
Tourists spend time at the visitor’s centre where there are exhibits and history to be enjoyed.
“The final activity is usually a cultural presentation held over at the community hall,” said Merkosak, adding tables are set up at the hall, where artists and carvers display their items.
“We also have a gift shop in the visitor’s centre. We are under consignment – what we display for the carvers, they get the money.”
Some passengers request a short hike.
“Which is about one kilometre. There’s an ancient archeological site with the old sod houses that the tourists get to view,” Merkosak said.
Between 94 and roughly 400 people entered the community at once, and spent no more than six hours in the community.
The last ship visited Sept. 14.
Pond Inlet enjoys tourism almost year-round, though smaller groups of roughly 12 are the norm. January and February are for sports hunters, while in May and June tourists come into the community by plane to head out to the floe edge.
Merkosak calls his home community the jewel of the North, while tourists call it God’s country.
The hamlet hired a tourism consultant, who has offered ideas on how to enhance tourism services into the future.
“How to better prepare for the visits, how to communicate with the tour guides, how to plan out the day,” said Merkosak.
Pangnirtung offer similar activities for its visitors, but the community suffered at the hands of ice conditions last year with only one of five cruise ship making it in, said Ooleepeeka Arnaqaq, the community’s tourism coordinator and Angmarlik Visitor Centre manager.
All five expected cruise ships arrived in that community. Groups also come in by plane for day trips from Iqaluit.
“They like to have the more Northern Northern feel. We have hikers in the park (Auyuittuq National Park), as well,” Arnaqaq said.
Pangnirtung boasts the Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts and Crafts – where tourists can view and purchase tapestries, prints and weaving – its own visitor’s centre, a museum, as well as a fish plant.
Tours usually have an elder lighting a qulliq, while explaining the traditional lamp.
“And the tour guide made tea outside, with heather. The group we had today were very keen on learning traditional lifestyles. People want to learn so it’s always nice to have people coming in from the park and then learning Inuit ways,” said Arnaqaq in late August.
Carvers work outside their homes, and tourists like to watch, and Arnaqaq says cruise ship visitors are treated to Inuit games, throatsinging and dance demonstrations, and fish stew.
“And we have somebody play the accordion so there’s a bit of dance going on,” she said.
Pangnirtung residents have been welcoming visitors in healthy numbers since the 1980s, so they are quite accustomed, said Arnaqaq.
Between 20 and 30 out-of-territory tourists pass through the Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre in Iqaluit each day, said coordinator Aaron Watson.
Cruise ship passengers in the capital are either beginning or ending their Northwest Passage journey, and most people passing through enjoy the “city life” of shops, restaurants and entertainment. Iqaluit also has parks, such as Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park and, just a boat ride away, Qaummaarviit Territorial Park. Visitors also enjoy fishing and wildlife viewing.