All tourism vessel traffic in 2019, cruise and passenger ships.
A look into Arctic tourism trends and local guideline development

The Arctic is promoted as one of Earth’s last pristine areas with unique nature and rich history. In recent years as the region has become more accessible, more tourists have turned their attention to the Arctic. This increase in marine tourism could bring major impacts to the region. On one hand, there’s potential for local economic boosts and greater cultural and environmental awareness. But it could also lead to increases in pollution, invasive species and other serious social and environmental risks.

Analyzing and enabling sustainable Arctic marine tourism is one goal of the Arctic Council’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group (PAME). Its latest marine tourism project tracks trends with tourism vessels and analyzes guidelines for near-shore and coastal areas of the Arctic visited by tourists and operators.

Arctic tourism trends

Using its Arctic Ship Traffic Data system, PAME worked with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to analyze passenger vessel data from 2013 to 2019. It found a 35 percent increase in the number of passenger vessels operating during that time period within Arctic waters as defined by the Polar Code. In 2013, 77 unique ships operated in the Arctic, while in 2019 there were 104.
As the Arctic environment changes, it may be feasible for passenger vessels to operate during more months of the year. Over the course of the years analyzed, 70 percent of passenger ships operated in more than one month. On average, 10 percent of passenger ships operated in six months or more, and in each year analyzed, at least one passenger vessel operated in all 12 months of the year.

All tourism vessel traffic in 2019, cruise and passenger ships.
All tourism vessel traffic in 2019, cruise and passenger ships.

Half of all passenger ships used distillate marine fuel to navigate in Arctic waters in 2019. 24 percent of passenger ships used Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) – a type of fuel that has some of the highest levels of exhaust emissions among marine fuels and poses significant environmental risks if leaked into Arctic waters. A worrying trend points to increasing use of HFO in recent years.

Guidelines for Arctic tourism

To prevent disturbance of Arctic peoples, wildlife, vegetation and cultural remains, PAME worked with the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) to analyze existing site-specific guidelines for near-shore and coastal areas of the Arctic visited by marine tourism ships. Based on existing guidelines, AECO created a standardized template for site-specific guidelines for tourists and vessel operators to follow. Site-specific guidelines can be tailored towards mitigating safety and environmental risks, encouraging sustainable use and educating visitors on ecological, cultural and historical features unique to the area they are visiting.

Fuel types and usage by ships in the Arctic.
Fuel types and usage by ships in the Arctic.

Future work

PAME’s Arctic Marine Tourism report includes several recommendations for further work. One is that Arctic governments identify areas particularly vulnerable to marine-based tourism that would benefit from the creation of site-specific guidelines.

Trends in Arctic tourism will continue to evolve – particularly as outside factors including the Covid-19 pandemic significantly impact the tourism industry and Arctic communities. How will the pandemic impact Arctic marine tourism? Which areas in the Arctic receive the greatest number of tourists? To what extent are passenger vessels operating in high-risk ice conditions? PAME can answer these questions – and more – as they continue to collect data and analyze marine tourism in the Arctic.