AECO Pioneers Community Engagement

Frigg Jørgensen, executive director

AECO (the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) has a strong focus on community engagement for the expanding expedition cruise fleet and its operator members.

"That is general engagement with the communities to ensure a mutual benefit for expedition cruising in the Arctic,” said Frigg Jørgensen, executive director, in the 2019 Expedition Market Report by Cruise Industry News. “It’s about cooperation on a local level to see how tourism can contribute not only to the economy but also to social and cultural issues and finding the balance in sustainable tourism.”

AECO has led the way in developing community specific guidelines that provide expedition passengers with a “do’s and don’ts” of visiting select destinations. Community specific guidelines have been created and adopted by Longyearbyen in Svalbard and Sisimiut in Greenland. 

In Sisimiut, the guidelines advise visitors to ask before photographing locals and are reminded that local dogs are for work, not petting. Visitors are also encouraged to shop and eat locally to experience the destination. Guests are also advised to enjoy archaeological remains from a respectful distance and to leave only footprints.

The guidelines were created by Destination Arctic Circle, a local business association, with support from AECO and funding from NORA (North Atlantic Cooperation).

Next, Jørgensen said that she was expecting to sign an MOU with Canada’s Nunavut to adapt AECO’s visitor guidelines.

Another major initiative is the group’s Clean Seas effort, a joint initiative to remove waste from the shores of Svalbard.

Later this year, AECO is expected to announce the results from a survey of cruise operator spending in Svalbard. While many ports have funded passenger spending surveys with questionable figures, AECO is tallying up the economic impact from operator (cruise line) spending.       

That will include everything from fuel and provisions to hiring local tour guides and polar bear guards, for instance.

AECO members use a scheduling system that covers Svalbard, Greenland, Canada and Franz Josef Land to coordinate ship calls. Registration is open and closes at set points, creating a comprehensive season-long schedule of what ships are where and when.

A Field Staff Online Assessment program was launched for the 2018 season, offering an exam for expedition team members in the Arctic. That exam is now mandatory for all operator members, with 954 people registering so far in advance of the 2019 summer season.

The open-book online test consists of up to 300 questions, focusing on AECO’s guidelines and principles, combined with knowledge about the two regions that are most frequented by AECO members, Svalbard and Greenland.

Overall capacity growth in the Arctic is relatively minor, with a huge area for expedition operators to explore.

“Some areas, such as Greenland, are looking to increase tourism for the economy,” Jørgensen said. “Numbers in these regions are low. In Canada, only a few thousand expedition tourists visited last year, and in Franz Josef Land, 1,000. Svalbard was at 20,000 but can manage more as long as it is sustainable and environmentally friendly.”

Other organization focus areas include search and rescue, with AECO recently participating in the Fourth Joint Arctic Search and Rescue (SAR) Workshop and Tabletop Exercise in Reykjavik in April with 80 participants.

In 2021 plans include coordinating a live search and rescue exercise on a small cruise vessel.

AECO is based in Longyearbyen with additional offices in Tromso and Copenhagen. The group’s overall mission ensures that expedition cruises and tourism in the Arctic are carried out with the utmost consideration for the vulnerable, natural environment, local cultures and cultural remains, as well as the challenging safety hazards at sea and on land.

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About the Expedition Market Report:

The 2019 Expedition Market Report by Cruise Industry News is a comprehensive overview of the booming expedition market, profiling 39 operators, over 40 new ships and projecting capacity growth through 2027. The 196-page PDF is a deep dive into all aspects of the expedition cruise market.

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