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Nunavut cruise ship numbers down

Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 3, 2009

NUNAVUT - The global economic slowdown means Arctic-bound cruise companies are making fewer voyages to Nunavut this year and some communities should expect fewer visits, says Nunavut Tourism.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

The MS Hanseatic, when full, brings 180 passengers to the coast of Cambridge Bay and other Nunavut hamlets. Cambridge Bay is one of only three places in the territory this year that will have an increase in visits from ships, according to the Government of Nunavut. - photo courtesy of Millie Traub

Over the course of 28 voyages last summer, hamlets big and small were visited 69 times by companies including Quark Expeditions, Cruise North Expeditions and Adventure Canada.

This year, only 21 voyages will be undertaken and 47 communities will be visited, according to a list of planned visits compiled by the Department of Economic Development and Transportation.

"The math is proportionate: the itineraries are down therefore the number of visits to communities are down," said Jeff Rush, acting CEO of Nunavut Tourism. "If you look at the whole global situation with tourism inbound and outbound in North America as well as internationally, for all the economic reasons, it's down. We're certainly no different."

"I think a number of companies that do own and operate their own ships have cut back. It's a bit harder this year with the economic downturn," said Alana Bradley Swan, operations manager for Adventure Canada, which is making four sailings through Nunavut this year, including its first-ever voyage in the Northwest Passage.

Ship visits 2008 2009
Iqaluit 15 4
Resolute 15 15
Pond Inlet 11 8
Pangnirtung 9 2
Clyde River 4 0
Cambridge Bay 3 6
Grise Fiord 3 3
Qikiqtarjuaq 3 2
Gjoa Haven 2 4
Cape Dorset 2 1
Kimmirut 1 1
Arctic Bay 1 0
Nanisivik 0 1
Total 69 47

Source: GN

"We've been able to continue operating our four sailings that we have planned. They're all about 80 per cent full. But in previous years, there have been times when, at this point, they're 95 per cent full."

Determining how the cuts will affect the potential flow of tourist dollars to Nunavut hamlets is difficult to do on a broad basis given the varying sizes, capacities and organizational structures of different communities, said Dushyenth Ganesan, manager of tourism trade, policy, export and investment for the Department of Economic Development and Tourism.

But overall, shopping only accounts for four per cent of total visitor spending, according to the department's 2008 Nunavut Exit Study.

In the case of Cambridge Bay - the economic centre of the Kitikmeot region and one of only two hamlets where the number of visits expected this year will be up from last year - cruise ships are a crucial economic driver, said Vicki Aitaok, owner of Arctic Closet and manager of the Arctic Coast Visitor Centre.

"Each cruise ship that comes here roughly spends at least $10,000 in this community," said Aitaok. "That goes to the elders; that goes to the heritage society; that goes to the young tour guides; the local businesses for any shopping. That doesn't include any potential fuel or garbage (pick-up services by the hamlet)."

Aitaok has been preparing the community for these visits for a number of years.

"When they arrive to the shore, we greet them, give them maps," she said of passengers. "We have trained tour guides; the young people in our community have an opportunity to learn about the history of Cambridge Bay and they get paid.

"It is a lot of work, but we're just a fine-tuned machine. It just gets easier and easier."

Both Aitaok and Rush said they're confident the industry will pick up.

"Just watching the global scene, there's confidence and I think you're going to see next year the whole tourism outlook will change. Within six to nine months, you'll start to see turnaround," said Rush.

Cruise ship passengers accounted for 12 per cent of all visitors to the territory last year, according to the exit study.