What’s Going on With Arctic Cruise Tourism?

The number of planned cruise itineraries in Arctic Canada doubled between 2005 and 2006 from 11 to 22 and has increased by an additional 9.5% on average over the past four years. Cruise ship activity has now begun leveling off and we are no longer seeing dramatic increases in itineraries as we did during the 2006 season. Although some additional growth is expected the observed leveling off of itineraries is likely due to the 2009 economic recession, the limited number of ice-strengthened ships available for tourism purposes, and a fluctuating market of individuals seeking to experience the Canadian Arctic by sea. Despite expected overall growth in the sector the actual patterns of cruise activity reveal a great deal of variability. We are now observing more cruise ship activity through the Northwest Passage and in the western Canadian Arctic and less activity in the southern Arctic than we have in the past.

Are More Ships Coming?

In Arctic Canada decreasing sea ice extent and thickness has facilitated an increase in navigable shipping routes. Sea ice retreat has been primarily concentrated in the Beaufort Sea but is also evident across the entire Canadian Arctic. During the 2010 summer season weekly sea ice concentration was between 20 and 35% lower than it is normally and the open water season was considerably longer than it has been in the past. As a result, it is more accessible for cruise ships to travel in the Arctic and the season for save travel is getting longer. However, a number of factors that are difficult to predict will effect whether or not more ships will be visiting in the future including, changing cost of fuel, availability of ice-strengthened ships, fluctuating demand, global economic conditions, political situations, changing regulations and policies.

Sea Ice Trends

Weekly Ice Coverage in the Regional Eastern Arctic for 2010 (blue columns) Compared to the 1971-2000 Average (red line)

Weekly Ice Coverage in the Regional Western Arctic for 2010 (blue colums) Compared to the 1971-2000 Average (red line)