The Culture of Nature: Destination Visitability in Ilulissat, Greenland


  • Karina M. Smed Aalborg University, Denmark


Tourism is increasingly a focal point for polar communities due to its potential for diversifying income in communities that have traditionally depended on natural resources. Polar tourism also draws on natural landscapes, and new strategies and values are therefore required for balancing out various elements of the local environment. This article provides new insights into the tourism product in Ilulissat, Greenland from the perspective of a dynamic nature/culture relationship, which is a proposed nation brand by the national destination management organization Visitgreenland. The destination of Ilulissat has always been focused around the grand nature surrounding the town—that is, the icefjord that has always shaped life in Ilulissat. The relationship between the icefjord and life around it suggests that nature and culture are closely related, which is useful for tourism purposes. In 2004, the Ilulissat Icefjord was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a natural heritage site, which reinforces tourism categorizations of nature and culture as distinct concepts. The question is how tourism addresses and uses this issue? The Ilulissat tourism operators and administrators provide insight into what is being sold and promoted to tourists. This insight goes  through interviews with local tourism actors and participant observations of the tourism products and the physical environment in which they exist. The concept of visitability is applied in order to explore the effects of tourism on the core values present in Ilulissat. Findings suggest an imbalance between implicit and explicit relationships between nature and culture, which may challenge tourist experiences and the ability to sustain a unique product in the future.

Author Biography

Karina M. Smed, Aalborg University, Denmark

Associate Professor, Department of Culture & Global Studies, Aalborg University, Denmark






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