The UNESCO World Heritage list marks sites of cultural and natural value worldwide. In Greenland we have, as of June 2018, three spectacular UNESCO sites:

The three sites are distributed along Greenland’s west coast. Obviously, Greenland has miles and miles of splendid untouched nature and vividly colourful, culture-filled settlements, that do not need a UNESCO accreditation to be valued by travellers. But nevertheless, UNESCO is an iconic brand that sells, and gives tourists a guarantee that they will see something meaningful. The interplay between the value of visitor experiences and the preservation of the site makes UNESCO interesting in regard to tourism.

As interest increases, site overexploitation becomes a relevant concern. There are many UNESCO sites that experience a much larger tourism pressure than Greenland will ever experience. But there is a vast difference between mass tourism in city areas like Barcelona, and our fragile Arctic ecosystems which have easy to access cultural remains and a very slow recovery rate. Thus, there is great sustainability potential in the planning, monitoring and regulation of the visitor experiences induced by UNESCO.

As a part of its strategy in contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UNESCO has created a sustainable tourism programme. Guidelines aim at visualising how economic, social and environmental sustainability can be achieved through local participation, ownership and partnerships.

Partnerships with local operators or between local operators is extremely important in boosting a UNESCO area, and making sure that the narrative comes from local voices with ownership and pride. Being accredited is not a silver bullet, but when the storytelling comes from local operators, hotels, guides, shops, authorities and other stakeholders, it creates value. 

In Greenland, storytelling is one of the things we are very good at, as knowledge has been passed on orally from generation to generation. And each of the three UNESCO sites has its own great story to be told.

 

Get struck by 4500 years of history

 

The area Aasivissuit – Nipisat was appointed a UNESCO site of cultural value in the summer of 2018. But the history of the area is not new. Traces of more than 4500 years of human settlement can be found in the area, which is the size of 585,000 soccer fields. Stretching from the ice sheet to the coast, this is the largest ice-free landscape in Greenland, making it an exceptional hunting ground throughout history and still today.  

 

SITE MAP

 

For hikers aspiring to complete the Arctic Circle Trail, the greatness of this area will be your companion during your hike. Thus, creating tourism around the stories and traces of the area’s prehistoric tales is not a new thing. And this existing local drive and engagement is a virtue in creating value and stories around the UNESCO site. Site Management, Sisimiut Museum and Arctic Circle Business have created a working partnership to create a holistic concept for the Aasivissuit – Nipisat site. This means that a permanent exhibition will be created alongside information boards and material for the 7 key sub-sites within the site. The newly appointed site manager, Paninnguaq Fleischer-Lyberth, states that pilot projects on site communication will be initiated on the key sites of Aasivissuit (near Kangerlussuaq) and Nipisat (an island just south of Sisimiut). With the lessons that are learned from these pilot projects, the rest of the key sites will be covered with time. The idea is to create a living experience, and the upcoming webpage will welcome tourists before, during and after their visit.   

Jesper Schrøder, Destination Manager for Destination Arctic Circle, reveals that the destination has already experienced an increased interest in, for example, the Nipisat site for expedition cruise landings. To mitigate the possible negative impacts of increased site interference, work on “Site Specific Guidelines” for the Nipisat island, based on the AECO template, has already begun. The fieldwork for the site guidelines will hopefully commence in the summer of 2020.

The Kujataa site in South Greenland (inscribed in 2017) holds many great stories about Norse and Inuit farming at the edge of the ice cap. As with the Aasivissuit – Nipisat site, it is distributed across several key sites of high cultural value. Based on this similarity, there is great potential for a national UNESCO cooperation, and the Aasivissuit–Nipisat team will this summer engage in learning and knowledge sharing with the site manager at Kujataa, Alibak Hard, and the Destination Manager in South Greenland, Sarah Woodall, in which tourism will be in focus.

 Ambitions are high, and a UNESCO conference in Kangerlussuaq, for stakeholders, site managers and rangers, not only from Greenland but also from relevant Nordic UNESCO sites, is also part of the vision. This would be a great platform for knowledge sharing, local anchoring and inspiration.

"Ambitions are high, and a UNESCO conference in Kangerlussuaq, for stakeholders, site managers and rangers, not only from Greenland but also from relevant Nordic UNESCO sites, is also part of the vision. This would be a great platform for knowledge sharing, local anchoring and inspiration."

UNESCO AND THE ROLE OF MONITORING TOURISM

The spectacular Ilulissat Icefjord was the first UNESCO world heritage site in Greenland, designated in 2004. The Icefjord is a breathtaking magnet for all tourists, and, due to increasing global concern about climate change, has attracted more and more climate journalists, celebrities, researchers and also tourists. Most of the site area is the actual fjord, a fjord upon which no visitors sail, as it is packed with ice that only local fishing boats can navigate. Focus on the current global climate crisis, and a resulting urge to experience majestic icebergs, has attracted many tourists to Ilulissat. On top of this, becoming a UNESCO site has boosted the attention on the destination.

As the fjord itself has no direct encounter with its visitors, it is the landscape in and around Ilulissat that experiences the pressure. This landscape offers great hikes which are complemented by the sight of icebergs floating through the mouth of the fjord and the unique sound of the ice cracking.   

"The Greenlandic UNESCO sites are under constant development, supported by the incredibly engaged communities around them - so make sure to stay updated on happenings and tourism-related news."

 

The relatively high visitor pressure in this area requires monitoring and regulation. According to Konrad Seblon, Site Manager at Ilulissat Icefjord, the monitoring required by UNESCO allows them to better protect the nature. The person employed on-the-ground to make sure that visitors adhere to the marked paths, in order to protect the vegetation in the area, is park ranger Aron Emil Pedersen. And Aron Emil knows his site; this year is his 10 year anniversary as park ranger – pilluaritsi!

The Ilulissat site is, of course, much more than regulation and monitoring. There are great stories connected to the importance of the presence of ice in the area. These tales, about how the ice has been intrinsic to the area's historical and cultural development, will be captured in the new icefjord centre. The building of the Icefjord visitor centre has already been initiated and it is scheduled to be ready to enchant visitors with science and history for the 2021 summer season.

The Greenlandic UNESCO sites are under constant development, supported by the incredibly engaged communities around them - so make sure to stay updated on happenings and tourism-related news.