Tourism booms as the Arctic melts. A critical approach of polar tourism

Seminar Paper, 2011

15 Pages, Grade: 1,2



1. Introduction

2. Defining Polar Regions and polar tourism
2.1. The Polar Regions
2.2. Polar tourism
2.3. Cruise tourism in Polar Regions

3. Negative changes in the polar environment
3.1. Impacts of climate change on Polar Regions
3.2. Serious impacts on Polar Regions - made by tourists

4. Last­chance tourism and the polar bear viewing industry
4.1. Travelling in spite of melting ice
4.2. Polar bears as symbols of last­chance tourism
4.3. “Barriers to entry”

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Wild bears, double-digit minus degrees and no comfortable luxury hotel within the range of vision- Polar Regions may not look like typical mass tourism destinations. But in fact - they are! For many years, people have been travelling by ship to the coldest regions at the end of the world for watching the abundance of wildlife and the great beauty of these unpopulated continents.

The Polar Regions are significant in global environmental change as they both are affected by climate change and influence global climate change. Climate change is expected to be greatest in Polar Regions: more rapid warming is predicted for the Arctic than for any other destination.

This increased publicity of Arctic climate change and global warming has created an unimaginable growth of natural tourism. Hundreds and thousands of people are now travelling for watching how ice is melting and animals are suffering for life.

The aim of this seminar paper is to examine aspects of a cold tourist destination and to deal critically with the impacts of tourism on Polar Regions. Therefore I am going to concentrate my focus on the following questions:

- What is polar tourism and how does it develop?
- How do both climate change and tourism affect Polar Regions?
- What are the reasons for increased polar tourism?

Therefore, the polar region is described in detail and the phenomenon of polar tourism is introduced. After a short description of cruise tourism in Polar Regions, special emphasis is put on the impacts of both climate change and tourists on the Arctic and Antarctic. Besides, the motivation for travelling to Polar Regions is explained and the polar bears viewing industry is examined.

2. Defining Polar Regions and polar tourism

This chapter provides an introduction to the Polar Regions first, by outlining the geographical dimension; second, by defining the term ‘polar tourism’; and third, by providing an overview of the current situation of cruise tourism in Polar Regions.

2.1. The Polar Regions

The polar region is one of the least explored destinations on earth and attracts both scientists and tourists. As transport technology was improved and significant changes in tourism market have taken place, more people are travelling to the coldest regions. Geographically, the polar region consists of the frozen Arctic Ocean and surrounding countries in the northern hemisphere as well as of the continent of Antarctica that surrounds the geographic South Pole.1

The Antarctic extends to 13,9 million square kilometers, 98% of which are covered by thick ice. More then 90% of the world’s fresh waters reserves are hold by the highest, driest, coldest and remotest continent. People are highly fascinated by the great beauty including spectacular wildlife, ice-covered mountains or ice-chocked seas at times the size of small countries. Politically, the Antarctic is neither owned nor controlled by one particular country. Australia, Argentina, Chile, France, Norway, New Zealand and the UK claim about parts of the Antarctic.2 But actually, none of these claims are accepted as the Antarctic is only managed under the Antarctic Treaty of 1959.

The Arctic region is centered on a sea basin, mostly encircled by lands that are pole ward extensions of the northern continent3. Scientists argue that an average temperature in the warmest month of less than 10°C is the most significant characteristic for the Arctic region.4 The frozen Arctic land reaching thickness of 1-3m includes northern parts of Canada, Finland, Greenland/Denmark, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States (Alaska). Currently, 3.5 million people are living in the Arctic experiencing hard living conditions with freezing temperatures, long winter darkness and summer light. The Arctic also presents “scenic attraction”5 like alpine mountains, fjords, beaches and spectacular waterfalls.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

World maps of the Antarctic and Arctic. Source:

2.2. Polar tourism

“Polar tourism is … the branch of an industry that caters for people who travel for pleasure to Polar Regions.”6 So, polar tourism is a vague term describing recreational visits of people from warmer countries to regions in the far North or South. The demand for new and exiting experiences has increased the growth of interest in experiencing high-quality natural environments and iconic wildlife as a mass tourism attraction. Nature-based tourism including polar bear viewing has become a specialist and quickly growing sector within the global tourism. And the opportunities for this kind of experience are widely known. Documentaries on TV, popular movies (e.g. March of the Penguins), including animated films (e.g. Ice Age), books, websites etc. have contributed to an increasing awareness of interest in the poles. Also, the opportunity to travel to previously inaccessible areas via cruise ships and commercial tour operators has contributed to a high demand. Whereas a visit to the Antarctica was previously only available to a few scientists and experienced adventures, nowadays it is widely available to everyone via dedicated cruise ship voyages. Hence, experiencing the attributes of the polar region, as an “accessible destination for a number of travelers”7 has increased rapidly.

Furthermore, a related impact influencing the demand is the ‘prestige value’ of having booked such a trip. Many long-term travelers and offshore cruisers want to have done things, which others have not. According to Luck et al. this may create some kind of “kudos”8

2.3. Cruise tourism in Polar Regions

The advent of numerous and large cruise ships has put polar destinations in the spotlight. Cruise ships to the polar region have transported more than 1.2 million passengers. The number of cruise-passengers to the Antarctic has even been tripled between 2000 and 2007. With 37,500 passengers in 2008-2009 ship-borne tourism represents over 98% of all trips in the Antarctic.9 Classic cruise destinations such as Alaska and Norway receive most passengers, whereas cruise tourism in Greenland and Arctic Canada has started more recently. The number of cruises to Svalbard (Norway) and Greenland has more than doubled between 2000 and 2007 and the general worldwide demand for cruising has grown steadily.10 Some sources even contend that it is the fastest increasing sector in the tourism industry11. Member lines of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) saw an increase in capacity from approximately 4.2 million bed-days in 2000 to just under seven million bed-day in 2009 for Alaska-bound cruises.12 Therefore, Arctic tourism is usually based on wildlife (especially sea mammals) and landscape (fjords, icebergs or glaciers) as attractions.



2 Cf. Bauer, Dowling (2006): 195

3 Cf. Snyder, Stonehouse (2010): 1


5 Cf. Snyder, Stonehouse (2010): 8

6 Cf. Snyder, Stonehouse (2010): vii

7 Cf. Luck et al. (2010): 18

8 Cf. Luck et al. (2010): 18

9 Cf. Eijgelaar et al. (2010): 339

10 Cf. Eijgelaar et al. (2010): 339

11 Cf. Dowling (2006): 2

12 Cf. Luck et al. (2010): 4

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Tourism booms as the Arctic melts. A critical approach of polar tourism
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Polar, Polar Tourism, Tourism, Ice bear, Arctic, Arctic Tourism
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Undine Handorf (Author), 2011, Tourism booms as the Arctic melts. A critical approach of polar tourism, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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