‘Climate Change Tourism’ Takes More Seasonal Workers From Finland To Greenland

Booming tourism industry fueled by climate change attracts Finnish workers, as Greenland becomes an entry on the 'last chance to see’ bucket list.

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Tampere student Iida Karjalainen in Greenland, summer 2018 / Credit: Robert Halenius, News Now Finland

Two hundred kilometres inland from the North Atlantic coast of Greenland – on the opposite side of the Davis Strait to Canada’s northernmost territory Nunavut – lies the remote town of Kangerslussuaq.

With a permanent population of only 550 people, and average summer temperatures less than +10°C, it’s one of the most remote and inhospitable parts of the Nordic region.

But more and more Finns are traveling to Kangerslussuaq in search of summer jobs; a twist on the usual picture of foreigners coming to Finland in search of seasonal work.

Iida Karjalainen and Jakob Sandberg are part of the increasing number of Finns finding seasonal work within the tourism industry in Greenland.

This summer they spent three months at the newly expanded restaurant of Hotel Kangerlussuaq, which was once the barracks of an American military base.

The hotel is located right next to Kangerlussuaq’s airport, which offers the only way to travel to the town in summer time. Travel agencies operate guided tours from the hotel to the vast Greenland ice sheet which covers roughly eighty percent of the island.

Although Kangerlussuaq’s air transport hub services 250,000 people every year, to the outside world, Greenland is still mostly an unknown frontier, known for its glaciers and polar bears.

“I didn’t know much about Greenland, but I knew it would be beautiful and exotic. I mostly knew about the nature there, not about the culture” says Iida Karjalainen, a student at Tampere University of Technology.

“I expected it to be harder to feel at home in such a small place without knowing the language, but I was amazed how friendly and open-minded people were” she tells News Now Finland.

Åland student Jakob Sandberg in Greenland, summer 2018 / Credit: Robert Halenius, News Now Finland

Demand For Seasonal Workers In Greenland

The number of Nordic workers in Greenland has increased by forty per cent over the last five years.  The work exchange programme Nordjobb reports the demand for seasonal workers is greater than supply.

“The demand for workers through Nordjobb is huge in Greenland. This year we have people working in all four regions of Greenland, from Narsarsuaq in the south to Upernavik in the north” says Bo Nylander, Nordjobb’s project leader for Greenland.

The isolated island offers unique work opportunities for people willing to withstand the cold glacial winds, and the lack of high speed internet connection.

“Most of the jobs are at fish or shrimp factories, followed by hotels and restaurants” Nylander explains.

For the past two years Nylander has worked on making seasonal work in Greenland more accessible by getting the employers to provide flights and accommodation.

Traveling to Greenland from Åland, Jakob Sandberg was one of the growing number of Finns heading north for seasonal summer work.

“I always had on my bucket list to stay in Greenland and Nordjobb made it easy for me to find work there and all the other stuff. I am very happy with the experience and being so close to the nature. The best part for me was getting to know the locals and learn about their normal day life” says Sandberg, who studies hospitality management at Åland University of Applied Sciences.

Reindeer on a glacier, Greenland summer 2018 / Credit: Robert Halenius, News Now Finland

Arctic Tourism Creates Jobs

The growing demand for seasonal workers is a result of increased tourism to the Arctic.

In recent years the number of tourists visiting Greenland has been rising substantially. From the 79,885 tourists visiting Greenland in 2014, the number grew to 109,763 last year – an increase of 37.4% in three years.

“We see an increase in tourists coming from other countries than Denmark. The new segments are more adventurous and more into niche products” says Anette Lings, the Deputy Chairman of Visit Greenland.

Lying in between the Arctic and the Atlantic seas, Greenland has traditionally been economically dependent on its seafood exports. The growing interest in Arctic tourism, however, has created a whole new industry.

The economic impact of the growing tourism is clearly visible in Kangerlussuaq. The year 2017 was the first year since 2014 that the hotel turned in profit – by comparison, in 2014 the hotel had a deficit 7,6 million Danish kroner.

Kangerlussuaq airport and harbour, Greenland, summer 2018 / Credit: Robert Halenius, News Now Finland

Climate Change Boosting Tourism To Greenland

One of the reasons tourists are now hurrying to see the glaciers, is because they’re disappearing. According to some researchers, climate change plays a part in the growing numbers of tourists visiting Greenland.

“Ironically, the development and recent growth of tourism in Greenland is at least partially sparked by climate change, which it of course accelerates in this primarily flight-supported Arctic destination” says Carina Ren, an associate professor at the Tourism Research Unit of Aalborg University in Denmark.

Ren notes that the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP15, held in Copenhagen, was combined with an attempt to use Greenland as a showcase for the effects of climate change.

“World leaders were invited to witness with their own eyes the ‘melting ice fjord’ of Ilulissat, Greenland” Ren explains.

Climate change has resulted in increased visibility for Greenland in the international media.

“Greenland has received major exposure as a place to witness climate change and thus become a member of the ‘see it before it disappears’ bucket list of climate changes” says Ren.

This is also noted by Anette Lings at Visit Greenland, who agrees that climate change has brought in more tourists and resulted in increased visibility.

“Absolutely, it has put Greenland on the world map and into travellers’ consciousness” she says.

Tourists on glacier ice in Greenland, summer 2018 / Credit: Robert Halenius, News Now Finland

The Paradox Of Climate Change Tourism

Along with the increased visibility, climate change has created a whole new motivation for tourists to visit the arctic. As the media is constantly reminding the public of how fast the arctic glaciers are melting, people are getting more interested in seeing the icebergs before it is too late.

“It is a paradox that the wish to see things before they disappear makes us travel even more, hence accelerating CO2-emissions, which triggers the ‘disappearance’ to start with” Professor Ren explains.

However, Ren does not want to put the development of the tourism industry in Greenland in bad light.

“This is not to point a finger at tourism development in Greenland, which – if developed and managed well – may offer the country a much-needed economical boost and perhaps help enable full independence from Denmark” she says.

Future Prospects

With three new transatlantic airports being currently under construction, neither Arctic tourism nor the demand for seasonal workers show signs of decline.

Greenland has the potential to offer unique and unforgettable experiences, and both Finnish students Iida Karjalainen and Jakob Sandberg were happy with their experience working there.

“I am more than happy that I chose to work in Greenland. I experienced and learnt so many things during my time in there and I truly miss Greenland. If only possible I would love to work and live there again” says Karjalainen.

The remote Greenlandic town of Kangerlussuaq, summer 2018 / Credit: Robert Halenius, News Now Finland