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Greenland - Open for business

Photo credit: Greg Hemmings

By Catherine Evans (photos by Greg Hemmings)

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend an SIUA INUvation Showcase in Nuuk, Western Greenland for small and medium sized businesses. I was part of a team from mainly Canada whose business interests ranged from tourism, film, artisan products to fashion.

Nuuk is the largest town in Greenland with a population of 18,000, roughly 1/3 of the total country population. As Greenland is the world’s second largest Island (Australia being the first), one can expect to meet up with more land than people.

The two air links are via Copenhagen or Reykjavik on either Air Greenland or Air Iceland. I reached Nuuk on a three-hour flight from Reykjavik. This route allows for exiting Iceland /Greenland combined trips. I took advantage of that option, spending a couple of nights in Iceland on the way home. I’ll save that conversation for a future blog. Air is the most popular access option. According to Greenland’s 2016–2019 Strategic Plan 45,486 visitors arrived or departed by air in 2015 with another landings by 22,000 cruise ship visitors distributed among 13 expedition ships.

The arrival by any means is nothing less than spectacular. Air Iceland’s twin propeller Dash 8 had room for less than 40 passengers with modest cabin luggage space. I recall a surreal image of snow-covered hills that weaved through channels of dark blue water, with no sign of plant, animal or human movement. Then, amongst the ice and rocks and watery inlets, what first appeared to be a gravel road leading to an industrial building revealed itself as the actual airport terminal. Two other small planes emboldened with the Air Greenland logo were parked and ready for other arrivals and departures to and from the six small communities in Western, Eastern and Southern Greenland connected by the carrier. Apprehension with such a short runway presented no worries for the pilot. Surprisingly, there are no arrival formalities in Greenland. I later asked about this, to be informed that they were not needed for vacations under 90 days.

The flight arrives at 9:00 am and the winter sun was beginning to appear. Lingering at the hotel was not preferred since my visit is short. I walk the galleries and shops that sell high fashion wools and seal skin patterns in addition to European casuals. It takes only 10 minutes to reach the historic harbour where small icebergs float beyond the brightly coloured hues of Atlantic houses dotted on ancient rock crops. They are centred around a small church - remnants of early missionaries.

Later in the afternoon I meet up with the other ‘buyers’ on this Greenland sojourn, and we instantly bond and head together for dinner. Vegetarians will not do so well and Vegans will have to bring their own food as the local fare is a collection of prepared game from successful hunting missions – whale, reindeer, caribou, musk-oxen, and Arctic char. There are some farmed items on the menu from Southern Greenland’s agricultural country and supplements of European imports.

The business showcase provides an opportunity to see a range of distinctively patterned Greenland fashionable wear, bone carvings, paintings, and to be treated to the music of Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Simon Lynge.

Night one brings us close to one of nature’s most intense visual spectacles – the Aurora Borealis. We gather near the hostel on the coast away from the lights of Nuuk to watch. White milky bands increase in intensity as the night darkens, and those who are able to stay up are rewarded as the lights begin to curtain and dance in the star-filled night sky. One viewing is not enough and we return to this spot the following night to witness an equally intense display, captured by photographer and filmmaker Greg Hemmings in this image below. (I stand on the left with my new Arctic friends.)

Photo by Greg Hemmings

During the day we meet tourism partners from various corners of the country who reveal an array of products; dog sledding, trophy hunting, week long hiking trips along the Arctic Trail – a newly appointed UNESCO heritage site, The Ilulissat Icefjord – another UNESCO designated site, icebergs, bigger and better icebergs, wildlife spotting (the same game as on our dinner plates), fjords, dining, paddling in kayaks, boating to traditional settlements, winter sports, snowshoeing, heli-skiing, experiencing the Arctic way of being, small museums, Viking sites, Inuit archaeological treasures and a trove of other unique Arctic experiences.

According to Visit Greenland the strategic priority will be to continually and effectively promote development and grow their unique Arctic experiences in a manner that is “focused on sustainability, responsibility and a local foundation”. To this end, an economic development bill passed on the day of departure approving airport expansion in Nuuk. On the horizon - larger planes, more jobs, more products and the ability to share culinary, music, fashion, tourism, handcrafts and a way of life that is distinctly Arctic.

I depart the same way I arrived. No formalities and no evidence of my visit other than my own photographs and memories.

Note: Tours of Exploration is in the process of developing new adventures in Greenland that will be launched with their Greenland partners for 2020.

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