[SPECIAL REPORT] Arctic tourism in the age of Instagram

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View from the Arnarstapi Hellnar Route on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in southwest Iceland. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
When most people think of Arctic economic development, things like resource extraction are usually first to mind. But northern regions and chambers of commerce are increasingly touting tourism as a key economic tool.

It’s seen as an industry that creates jobs for a variety of education levels, promotes small-scale entrepreneurship, reinforces and promotes local cultures, and creates the sustainable development lacking in many of the expensive and hard-to-get-to regions of the North; whether the remote Indigenous communities of Arctic Canada and Greenland, or the villages of Finnish Lapland and northern Russia.

But tourism is far from the benign industry it’s often made out to be.

As Iceland has discovered, mass tourism in the North can have social and environmental impacts as profound as those of the mining or drilling industries.

Yet successive governments did nothing to prepare for any of it. Instead, Instagram and Justin Bieber inadvertently ended up doing most of Iceland’s tourism planning for them.

Now, not everyone is sure they’re happy with the results.

To find out more, Eye on the Arctic’s Eilís Quinn travelled all over Iceland: along the country’s famed Golden Circle tourist route near Reykjavik, to remote farming settlements in the southwest, and to the dying fishing villages of the Arctic ; to find out who tourism is helping, who it’s hurting and what other circumpolar regions can learn from the Iceland experience.

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Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is a journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic circumpolar news project. At Eye on the Arctic, Eilís has produced documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the circumpolar world. Her documentary Bridging the Divide was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards. Eilís began reporting on the North in 2001. Her work as a reporter in Canada and the United States, and as TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China" has taken her to some of the world’s coldest regions including the Tibetan mountains, Greenland and Alaska; along with the Arctic regions of Canada, Russia, Norway and Iceland.

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