Polar bears and penguins would be apt symbols for the International Polar Tourism Research Network, a group of individuals with a shared interest in advancing the understanding of tourism in the world’s polar regions. The iconic bears and birds are often one of the main draws for tourists to these remote areas.
The start of the network in 2006-07 is credited to Alain Grenier, a professor of tourism at Université du Québec à Montréal who continues to serve as secretary for the group. There are now close to 100 members, most of whom are university researchers but also tourism consultants and operators, community members and graduate students.
The network held its third biennial meeting this April in Nain, Labrador. The Inuit community is the gateway to Torngat Mountains National Park, a top Arctic destination in north-eastern Canada. In Nain, “they want tourism, but they also want to plan it properly,” says Raynald Lemelin, one of the conference organizers and holder of a university research chair in parks and protected areas at Lakehead University.
Tourism in the polar regions stagnated with the global economic downturn, but has recently begun to grow again, says Dr. Lemelin. Many tourists, he says, are motivated by the perception that iconic animals like the polar bear may one day disappear or that the landscape will be forever altered by climate change.
Among the many challenges discussed in Nain were the need to collaborate and share information, build infra-structure, and safeguard against the potential environmental and cultural impacts of tourism on the host community.