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The Glacial Fjord of Ilulissat: The Touristic Development of a Natural Heritage Site

Le fjord glacé d’Ilulissat : la mise en tourisme d’un paysage naturel patrimonialisé
Andréa Poiret


Le tourisme a commencé lentement à Ilulissat (Groenland) dans les années 1980-1990, avant de s'étendre davantage au XXIème siècle depuis la classification par l'UNESCO du fjord du glacier Sermeq Kujalleq et le fait que l'Arctique soit devenu un symbole du changement climatique. Ces voyages sont à la fois imaginaires, décrits comme du « cryotropisme », du « boréalisme » ou de la « nordicité », et très réels : l'impact du tourisme est visible dans l'environnement. Un nouvel aéroport international est prévu pour 2023. Quel type de touriste et donc de voyage cela attirera-t-il ? Nous nous sommes demandés dans quelle mesure le site naturel d'Ilulissat pourrait être géré de manière durable. Pour répondre à cette question, nous avons adopté l'observation participante lors d'une immersion dans le Bureau du Fjord d'Ilulissat et avons réalisé une vingtaine d'entretiens semi-structurés.

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1The fjord of the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier is located in Ilulissat, west Greenland. The name of the city, Ilulissat, is partly attributed to this glacier as it means "icebergs" (Fig. 1). From sea ice, a glacial tongue, small and large icebergs, eroded rocks, to whales, this exceptional landscape is situated 300km north of the Arctic Circle. It is the most productive glacier in the northern hemisphere and holds the prestigious UNESCO label, among the 213 natural sites classified in the World Heritage.

2Today, this natural site is facing significant tourist pressure. The city of Ilulissat has developed around the fishing and tourism industries. Tourist visits began slowly in the 1980s-1990s and experienced increased growth in the 21st century, partly due to UNESCO classification and the Arctic becoming a symbol of climate change (Kergomard, 2007; Lasserre, 2013). Ilulissat has become the top tourist destination in Greenland. In 2013, it had a population of 4,541, while in July of the same year; the city recorded 7,546 rented rooms.

Figure 1. Photograph of the iceberg field, July 2019

Figure 1. Photograph of the iceberg field, July 2019

Crédit : A. Poiret, 2019

  • 1 L. Brayer is the author of the following thesis in 2014: Filmic Devices and Urban Landscape. The Or (...)

3Beyond the collected statistical and bibliographical data, this research is based on about twenty non-directive interviews conducted through the method of participatory immersion during an internship with the fjord office ranger. Immersion, as emphasized by L. Brayer1 in a 2019 interview, allows the researcher "not to remain at a distance," in comparison to bibliographic studies or archival research, which she does not consider:

“The appropriate response when one is interested in practices situated in specific spaces. Therefore, it is necessary to be within the situation to understand it, which means going into the field. We visit people to collect their situated narratives and daily practices, and gradually, we thread together the stories to gain insights into their ways of inhabiting spaces”.

4On what landscape resources does the tourist offer rely? How do different stakeholders in tourism cope with exponential demand? What are the tourist practices in this protected territory, and what are their impacts?

1. Landscape Assets in Line with Contemporary Sensibilities

5The recognition of the splendor of the landscapes of the Far North is not a recent phenomenon. The narratives, photos, and films of explorers and adventurers have captivated a wide audience. However, the challenges of access, partly due to extreme weather conditions, limited the number of visitors. The recent reduction in travel costs has opened up these spaces to tourism. It is a sought-after destination because it combines the beauty of ice certified by the UNESCO label and the unsettling vision of climate change.

1.1. A Spectacular Landscape

6Also known as Jakobshavn Isstrøm in Danish (Jakobshavn Ice Stream in English), the Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier is a "coastal glacier." Its glacier tongue flows into a fjord that connects to the ocean. It is the most active glacier in the world, with an annual production of 46 km of ice (Ilulissat Icefjord Office, 2013). In 1998, its glacial flow was 19 meters per day, reaching 40 meters per day in 2008 (Mikkelsen & Ingerslev, 2008). The glacial basin covers 40,240 hectares, and the ice cap has a thickness of 3.2 kilometers. The volume of the interior ice is estimated between 2.6 and 2.9 million km3 (Holtzscherer & Bauer, 1954; Bamber et al., 2001), and the glacial fjord measures 70 km. Its depth ranges from 1000 to 1500 meters at the water level (Jacobi, 1958, Echelmeyer et al., 1991).

7The glacier is the only remnant of the last glacial period of the Quaternary in the northern hemisphere. It represents the last glaciations (about 100,000-10,000 years BCE), the deglaciation of the early Holocene (10,000-5,000 years BCE), and the neoglaciation of the late Holocene (about 5,000-100 years BCE) (Mikkelsen & Ingerslev, 2008). For these reasons, it is one of the most studied sites in geomorphology, considered an archive of past climate changes (between 250,000 and about 11,550 years ago) (Dansgaard et al., 1993; Alley, 2000). This site also holds historical significance, with Greenland being inhabited for 4,500 years. The Sermeq Kujalleq glacial fjord served as a hunting ground for the Sermermiut ("glacier people"), and archaeological remains are present and visible. For all these reasons, the site was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004 (Fig. 2), selected based on criterion (i): being exceptional and criterion (iii): containing superlative natural phenomena or areas of outstanding beauty and exceptional aesthetic importance.

Figure 2. Delimitation of the UNESCO World Heritage site

Figure 2. Delimitation of the UNESCO World Heritage site

source: Ilulissat Icefjord

8What matters most to most tourists is being able to immerse themselves in splendid and unusual landscapes. Landscapes that evoke beautiful photography, which has become a widespread practice with the global diffusion of smartphones. Photographs and short films showcasing their creators are immediately transmitted, among other means, to thousands of viewers through social networks.

1.2. A Labeled Landscape, A Source of Sought-After Heritage Notoriety for Many Tourists

9Tourism in these polar regions is referred to as "cryotropism" (attraction to polar regions associated with icy landscapes and adventure) or "borealism" (attraction to countries plunged into six months of darkness, six months of permanent daylight) (Myklebost, 2010; Ballotti, 2018; Battail, 2016 Et 2018; Briens, 2016) or even "nordicity" (fascination with northern countries, the "world of cold": its climate and light) (Chartier, 2016). In Greenland, additional marketing efforts have been made since the 2000s to attract more tourists, notably with the creation of the national tourist promotion office "Visit Greenland." The number of overnight stays in Ilulissat increased from 35,169 in 2004 to 71,739 in 2018 (Fig. 3). According to the same Visit Greenland site, the number of tourists in Greenland could reach 90,000 people per year by 2027 (twice as many as in 2018), representing an annual increase of 6%. It is accelerating even though Greenland remains one of the least frequented Arctic regions (Delmas, 2014). According to the interviews we conducted, the majority of tourists are mainly aged between 30 and 65, seeking "nature" with a minimum level of comfort. A younger tourism is developing, including backpackers and/or those opting for long stays in kayaks.

Figure 3. Number of overnight stays in Ilulissat, per year

Figure 3. Number of overnight stays in Ilulissat, per year


10Tourism began in Ilulissat in the 1990s, but according to a municipal employee, it was from 2008 onwards that "you could really feel that the tourists were coming." Until 2005, tourists were particularly seeking a sense of freedom or even the unknown. In the absence of paths, tourists went everywhere. A camping site was present, and it was possible to camp for several nights in a row. According to a municipal employee from that period, the site was "out of control, but you could still say 'OK, it's not so bad,' but with UNESCO, we really needed better control”.

"When I started in tourism 20 years ago, it was a free zone. There was a campsite. People were free. There weren't many hiking trails. Now, to take a tour, you have a schedule when you buy your ticket. But 20 years ago, you came with a group of 6 to 8 people to buy a ticket, and the guides would say, 'We'll leave when you're ready.' Then we would go to the harbor, sail, catch fish, and eat on the fjord, and then we would go home. We didn't know what time we would be back; the most important thing was to give tourists the best experience possible. But those were the good old days, less control... Now, if you have 200 tourists waiting, you have to have schedules. The good old days were very good; I miss them, but the future is coming. We are now part of a globalized society, so everything is adapted to everyone's needs.”.

1.3. A natural landscape marking climate change

11Greenland has become a symbol of climate change, both for scientists and tourists. Its current evolution is also studied to predict the future reactions of ice caps and glacial streams. The heritage status of the Ilulissat fjord is one of the tools for this (Delmas, 2012). According to a municipal employee, since the site was classified, many journalists come to Ilulissat to photograph icebergs to illustrate climate change, and now some tourists come "to look at the last iceberg before it disappears, to see it for the last time." This tourism focuses on the summer period, from June to the end of August (Delmas, 2012).

2. Means for Tourist Development of the Territory

2.1. Institutional Support: Denmark, Greenland, Municipality

12The Greenlandic and Danish governments have decided to diversify Greenland's economy, which currently relies 50 percent on fishing, making Greenland dependent on falling prices and/or stock collapses. According to the residents we interviewed, many people live on a low salary compared to the cost of living in the city. Most food products are imported, housing and internet connection prices are high, and some are even considering living in Denmark. While the desire to develop tourism in Greenland is established, the form that this tourism economy will take is still to be defined.

13The governments of Denmark and Greenland, along with the municipality of Ilulissat, submitted a proposal in the early 2000s to obtain UNESCO classification for the site. This was the first UNESCO application for Greenland.

14The UNESCO classification has not changed certain local practices, which was the goal of the former site manager, who emphasized, "you have to listen to the locals because it's really important to have their support." Hunting and fishing have not been prohibited at the Sermermiut site. Only the use of snowmobiles has been restricted, which has sometimes caused issues, as highlighted by one of the interviewees:

15"I heard that one winter they had difficulty unloading fish from the port due to ice. They wanted to unload the fish at Sermermiut and pick them up by snowmobile. It was a problem, of course, because it is forbidden to go there by snowmobile."

16According to a municipal employee, tourists do not disturb fishing or hunting:

"Excursion boats are not allowed in the ice fjord. They stay near the icebergs. There are not so many tourists. It does not bother the fish. I mean, the fishermen continue to fish; they also hunt. There are so many seals up there. Last week, while I was hunting, there was a tour boat, and they saw me. Seals always come, even if there is a tourist boat; the halibut is at the bottom of the ocean, so they don't sense the boat."

17Naja Habermann was hired in 2008 as the site manager. According to her, the UNESCO classification allows for the protection of the site while promoting tourism. The goal is to "find the right balance between protection and tourism, involving locals in tourism, connecting their world to the UNESCO site, with a focus on sustainable tourism." In 2009, the first ranger was hired to manage the site on a daily basis. According to the former manager, his job is to "help tourists be safe and not destroy everything." The choice of the site ranger is based on his extensive local connections, making it easier for him to explain the new rules to people.

2.2. Private Investments to Leverage Tourism Opportunities but Hindered by a Labor Shortage and Lack of Facilities

18There are already numerous tour operators in Ilulissat offering various activities such as kayaking or boat excursions to admire the fjord and observe whales. Helicopter rides and bus trips to the fjord are also available. These daily activities contribute to damaging the site, including its archaeological dimension. The tourism development, however, provides income and an increase in demand for traditional crafts (Delmas, 2014). The tourism development project is already encouraging the establishment of new businesses. One café owner, for example, decided to open a café-restaurant after learning about Ilulissat's business plan in a Greenlandic magazine. She arrived in 2016 to set up her business, believing that once the airport is open, opportunities for establishing businesses in the city will vanish.

19Similarly, one of the directors of a tour operator explains that the winter tourist season is expanding to the extent that he plans to hire eight guides for winter 2019, compared to three in previous winters. He also anticipates the construction of igloos on the outskirts of Ilulissat in 2019 as a new attraction for clients: "experience a night in an igloo in Greenland." Finally, a parliament member we interviewed envisions that residents could seize this opportunity not only by building new hotels but also by creating small businesses, such as a laundry service to meet the hotels' needs.

20While these projects interest some, others are skeptical because the city is not sufficiently developed. In the summer, all hotels are fully booked. There are no sidewalks. The port is too small, etc. The coexistence between the fishing industry and tourist activities is also complicated. According to one of the directors of a fishing industry:

"There are many people now with the tourists around the port, so we work more slowly because we need more space. Also, we want to build a new warehouse and expand our company."

21According to the director of one of the tour operators, even if larger planes land, there is not enough space to accommodate the new tourists:

"The problem is that in summer, there is not enough space. Hotels have a limited number of rooms, so the number of tourists is also limited by this number of places because everything is reserved during the summer. Even if more tourists come, there are no places for them to stay. The city needs more hotels. The port needs to be enlarged because it is way too small for the tour operators and the fishermen."

22Some residents also complain that the city is turning too much towards tourism, especially that the city center is filled with hotels, cafes, and agencies for tourists, to the detriment of local cultural life. For example, creating a cultural center with exhibitions, concerts, a cinema, etc. According to a journalist, the city also lacks a museum focused on Ilulissat's history:

"The sad story, for example, when mixed marriages between Greenlanders and Danes were banned by law during colonization. There are many strange stories to tell here, a lot of pain here, a lot of things left unsaid. A museum can help citizens understand themselves."

23These same people fear that Ilulissat, like Barcelona, Venice, or Iceland, will face a problematic tourism situation. Others think this will not happen as long as airfare remains high. A tourism industry employee expresses her concern:

"I'm afraid that if more people come, tourists won't be able to enjoy the silence, and so they won't feel the Greenlandic nature, they won't hear the bubbles of the water, the ice. I don't think people will experience tranquility."

2.3. New Infrastructure Projects: Port, Airport

24In Ilulissat, a new international airport is planned for 2023, and a visitor center welcoming tourists near the Icefjord is under construction. A road network is also planned. The city currently lacks the capacity to accommodate more tourists. A new port has been under discussion for about thirty years. The current port size is too restricted to accommodate both the fishing and tourism industries simultaneously. Some interviewees envision Ilulissat becoming the new starting point for cruise ships, replacing Kangerlussuaq, allowing more ships to dock.

25Until now, to reach Ilulissat from Europe, one had to either pass through Kangerlussuaq airport to take a smaller second plane or change planes in Iceland. Currently, only Air Greenland and Icelandair fly over Greenland. Following China's project to develop a "polar silk road" by encouraging companies to establish themselves in the Arctic, the state-owned China Communication Construction Company (CCCC) was one of the finalists in the international competition for the airport's construction. However, this proposal was rejected because, for political and strategic reasons, the Danish government decided to take control of the project (Lasserre, 2013; Degeorges, 2016; Simonet, 2016; Kunz, 2017; Runge Olesen, 2017) and assist the Greenlandic government by financing it at 50%. Greenland's government will contribute 2.1 billion, and Denmark's government 1.6 billion. The Kalaallit (KAIR) company was chosen to implement this infrastructure by seeking investors. According to a member of the private company Kalaallit (established in 2016 to renovate the airports of Nuuk and Ilulissat and build a new airport in Qaqortoq), the goal is to build an entirely new airport, not just extend the current one. The extension of the runway (with a length of 2,200 meters) will allow direct flights from Ilulissat to Denmark without having to go through Kangerlussuaq. It will also enable cheaper domestic flights and accommodate intercontinental jets.

26Will the future airport truly promote the arrival of more tourists? The question arises about the airport's use during winter if winter tourism does not increase. While it is possible to travel to Denmark every day in summer, there are only one to two flights per week in winter. If there are not enough people to fill these new large planes to Denmark, the flights will have to stop in Nuuk, the capital. Opinions differ on this issue based on the political views of the interviewees. Some support the project, seeing economic opportunities and practical advantages (lower prices and the ability to come from Denmark without changing planes). One of the directors of a fishing company also plans to make a deal with an airline to send fresh products by plane at higher prices than if they were sent frozen by container. Others, on the contrary, see it as a loss of money that could have been invested in education and health, as well as a risk to the environment. Besides economic reasons, several residents appreciate the project because it allows more tourists to come.

27The municipality has implemented a "tourism strategy" that includes the airport project. Since Ilulissat is too small to accommodate this tourist flow, the municipality plans to send them, through marketing campaigns, to small nearby towns like Uummannaq, so they can benefit economically. To implement this plan, the municipality has organized meetings with Ilulissat's tour operators. They plan to build hotels and restaurants. They also consider extending the tourist season to benefit from it year-round. Currently, few people take dog sledding tours with tourists in winter. Profitability is not there, and jobs are available in fishing.

3. Coexisting Tourist Practices and Their Impacts: Sea Kayaks and Cruise Ships

28The question of sustainable tourism is at the heart of the issues. According to the former site manager, for a shift towards sustainable tourism, the municipality must:

“Invest in the area. They must be attentive to development, be aware. They must have a clear goal, have a strategy for the number of tourists they want, and be rigorous. It is better to have tourists who stay longer and spend money than tourists like those from cruise ships. It is preferable to have tourists who stay for one or two weeks and spend a lot of time, who have read before coming: that's the kind of tourists who are better for everyone. It is better to focus on how they are involved in the region than on their number...”.

29These statements resonate with those made by the manager of a youth hostel:

“There are more and more cruise ships, and these tourists do not have the same respect as those who plan to stay here. For me, there are different types of tourists: those who come camping and those from cruise ships who come and go, they do not respect the places. I am more afraid of this second type of tourists. These tourists damage nature. I prefer those who camp and hike, they are aware, they are here.”.

30The municipality's objective is to control the tourist mass. Since the site was classified in 2004, the number of tourists has increased. Measures had to be put in place to control this flow because these "nature protection areas" (Di Méo, 1998) involve human intervention to minimize traces of environmental degradation (Depraz, 2008). The site has been easily accessible from the town of Ilulissat, with three hiking trails marked: the blue trail (6.9 kilometers), the yellow trail (2.7 kilometers), and the red trail (one kilometer) (Fig. 4). These trails allow tourists not to get lost but also limit the impact of tourists on the site. It has also preserved places for locals who go to "good places" off the beaten path, as emphasized by one of the interviewees:

“Local people also follow the trails. But they also know where the good places are. You have your favorite spot and your favorite little lake where you go swimming. So, you don't just follow these trails; you also follow your own, off the beaten path.”.

31Following numerous accidents (one summer, there were seven broken legs), a long wooden walkway was built on part of the blue trail between 2008 and 2012 to facilitate access to this wetland. Toilets were installed at the entrance of the site. However, as mentioned earlier, Greenland remains a region still "sparsely populated," according to one of the municipality's employees currently:

“We do not yet have this huge mass of tourists, like other countries, that have a significant impact on nature. We are trying to control the tourists who go there, and the forest ranger oversees them.”.

Figure 4. Map of the city of Ilulissat with hiking trails


3.1. The Elitist Vein of Sustainable Ecotourism

32Some tour operators are trying to engage in so-called "sustainable" tourism. One of them does so by building tourist residences labeled as "ecological," using solar panels and sustainable materials. In addition, its clients engage in long hikes, camping no more than one night in the same place, and collecting their waste. The operator also tries to distribute tourists by offering overnight stays in quieter places outside Ilulissat to relieve the city and the Icefjord of Ilulissat. It plans to build new accommodations in a third location for 2020-2021. The rates are high to target a wealthy clientele. A café director interviewed shares the same opinion, preferring to work with a wealthy clientele. He fears that with the expansion of the airport, mass tourism will prevail and that his clientele will change. His current clients come to Ilulissat because "it's 'exotic,' there aren't that many tourists," and express their concerns about the airport project, telling him, "please, do not build the airport, do not make the city like Iceland."

33Another type of tourism is emerging: a three-week sea kayaking trip with nightly camping in tents. One of the guides from one of these companies chose this profession to teach the origins of kayaking in the Arctic and convey it through a form of tourism he defines as "ecotravel." His goal is to raise awareness about the preservation of natural spaces. According to him, this nature sport is not "abrasive to the environment" but a means of raising awareness, making it unnecessary to ban tourist flows in natural environments but rather to regulate them and, above all, teach tourists to "think environment." To achieve this, he establishes life rituals. Every day he gives a presentation to his clients about the natural environment, such as having to fetch water from the source every night. At that moment, he sensitizes them to the limits of natural resources. He also implements what he calls "sensory breaks" by asking his group to be silent for two minutes to listen and observe the landscape in silence. His definition of ecotravel is not limited to natural spaces. He also draws his clients' attention to the inhabitants of these spaces by teaching them to respect their ways of life and history. This type of tourism in Ilulissat attracts around a hundred people per year, mostly aged 30 to 60, accustomed to trekking and nature travel. The trip costs a minimum of around €5,000 per person for three weeks.

34Some residents have also invested in hosting tourists. Ilulissat has about ten Airbnb residences that opened between 2015 and 2019 (Fig. 5). There are also Bed & Breakfast accommodations. There is also a very active member of the Couchsurfing network. According to him, the principle of Couchsurfing is not yet popular in Greenland, and his Greenlandic friends do not understand why he agrees to host tourists for free.

Figure 5. Location of Airbnb accommodations in 2019

Figure 5. Location of Airbnb accommodations in 2019


35For now, few residents of Ilulissat are involved in tourism. With an extremely low unemployment rate, 4% in 2010, it is challenging for tour operators, cafes, restaurants, and hotels to employ locals. Moreover, given the small population, especially those who speak English and Danish, tour operators struggle to hire locals or even find a workforce. Some restaurants are forced to restrict their opening hours. During the summer, the majority of guides are Danish, and tourists complain about it, as mentioned by the parliament member who also owns a tour operator:

"I've heard it from tourists who say, 'I'm not here to see Denmark! Especially from Danish tourists. 'I didn't come here to see Denmark!'"

36According to the director of a youth hostel, the municipality should try to attract people from Nuuk to come and work in Ilulissat. The involvement of locals would be economically beneficial for the city because seasonal foreign workers who only stay for a few months do not pay taxes in Greenland.

3.2. The Creation of A Unifying Facility: The Visitor Center

37The construction of a "visitor center" along the blue trail is planned for the fall of 2020. This project has been under discussion for about twenty years. The UNESCO designation facilitated its implementation as it attracted investors who wanted to be associated with an internationally recognized natural site. The project's goal is to "contribute to our understanding of climate change [...] the ice fjord, and, above all, its culture and history, as well as the spectacular melting of the Greenland ice sheet." The Danish architectural firm Dorte Mandrup has designed a wooden structure that should promote "a dialogue between the exhibition inside and the natural environment of the building; a dialogue between humans and nature." (Lomholt, 2019). It will also house the current Icefjord Office that manages the UNESCO World Heritage site, a cafe, a store, a laboratory for researchers, and an exhibition (covering the ice formation process, Inuit culture along the fjord, and current climate change). While this project aspires to raise awareness of climate issues, its primary objective is to contribute to tourism development (Lomholt, 2019.). It is expected to welcome around 25,000 visitors per year. All those interviewed are very supportive of this project and eagerly await its completion. According to them, this center will provide tourists with the necessary information to understand what they see. Moreover, the center will generate data through research. The former site manager hopes that meetings between fishermen and scientists will be organized, for example. A director of one of the tour operators also hopes to establish a partnership with the visitor center so that his guides can take tourists there. The director of a youth hostel hopes that this new facility will encourage cruise ship tourists to show more respect for the places they visit.

3.3. Anticipated Profits From Mass Tourism: Cruises And Charters

38Mass tourism has developed with the arrival of cruise ships bringing hundreds of tourists. The number of passengers on these cruise ships was 8,250 in 2015 and 12,873 in 2017 (Fig. 6). Most of those interviewed have a negative opinion about the arrival of these cruise ships, which, in their view, contribute little to the city: they spend little locally, come only to take a few photographs of icebergs, and leave. They purchase very few souvenirs and do not eat in restaurants, but they buy a lot of food at the supermarket, which can be problematic for the locals. The director of one of the tour operators describes these tourists as follows:

"They don't want to see Greenland like the other tourists who came by plane want to see it. They are here for only a few hours and run to the ice fjord to take photos. They don't buy excursions, only a few souvenirs. They don't eat in the city's restaurants because they have everything on the boat. So, many people come here and represent very little revenue for the city. Of course, we are interested in having more tourists, but we don't appreciate the cruise ships."

39These cruise ships also pose disadvantages for other tour operators, for example, when they disembark hundreds of tourists in a small village where one of the tour operators has set up residences for tourists seeking tranquility. However, the municipality continues to support their arrival, hoping that they will eventually spend money if the consumption offerings meet their expectations:

"We have to offer something they like so that they buy it. It's up to us now to make sure they have something to spend, not just the hotel, not just tours, but when they come here, we have to sell good products for tourists so that they can put money into the city."

40The municipality plans to better welcome cruise passengers by opening more specific shops.

Figure 6. Number of cruise ship passengers per year in Ilulissat

Figure 6. Number of cruise ship passengers per year in Ilulissat

Source :


41In 2018, the annual conference of the Arctic raw materials group took place, focusing on the sustainable economic growth of Greenland. This question was also addressed in the work of Ulrik Pram Gad and Jeppe Strandsberg, "The Politics of Sustainability in the Arctic, Reconfiguring Identity, Space, and Time," which reflects on the term "sustainability" as a political concept, using the Arctic as a case study. How to protect a natural heritage that, by definition, is constantly evolving? (Héritier & GuichardAnguis, 2008) How could the heritage designation of this site evolve towards environmentally friendly tourism? By protecting it, have we not already made it less natural? In the frozen fjord of Ilulissat, as elsewhere, the World Heritage designation has generated renown, triggering a wave of tourism with significant environmental and societal impacts. The institutional protection operation seems to contradict the desire to preserve this natural site. In reality, while one believes they are protecting, they are creating a desirable product exploited in the era of mass tourism consumption. Will the pursuit of economic profitability by all local and international tourism stakeholders prevail over the sustainable conservation of the territory? It is decision time. The solution lies in the hands of public authorities: to prohibit, regulate, or let it be?

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1 L. Brayer is the author of the following thesis in 2014: Filmic Devices and Urban Landscape. The Ordinary Transformation of Places through Film. Architecture, Space Planning. University of Grenoble, French.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Photograph of the iceberg field, July 2019
Crédits Crédit : A. Poiret, 2019
Fichier image/jpeg, 299k
Titre Figure 2. Delimitation of the UNESCO World Heritage site
Crédits source: Ilulissat Icefjord
Fichier image/jpeg, 198k
Titre Figure 3. Number of overnight stays in Ilulissat, per year
Crédits Source:
Fichier image/jpeg, 60k
Crédits Source:
Fichier image/gif, 86k
Titre Figure 5. Location of Airbnb accommodations in 2019
Crédits Source:
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Titre Figure 6. Number of cruise ship passengers per year in Ilulissat
Crédits Source :
Fichier image/jpeg, 21k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Andréa Poiret, « The Glacial Fjord of Ilulissat: The Touristic Development of a Natural Heritage Site »Études caribéennes [En ligne], 57-58 | Avril-Août 2024, mis en ligne le 30 avril 2024, consulté le 24 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Andréa Poiret

Paris I Panthéon‑Sorbonne, Department of Geography,

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Droits d’auteur


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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