Deep knowledge of the Arctic wildlife, people and geography enable this Nunavut tourism business to provide the very best experiences for visitors.
Ask people around the world what they picture when they think of Canada, and polar bears and spectacular winter nature feature high up the list. Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions Inc., NU, bases its strength on great expertise in the Arctic environment, from the wildlife and geography to deep-rooted relationships within the Inuit communities so that travellers get an authentic feel for the region’s culture and peoples.
Arctic Kingdom’s Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari is now part of the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC)’s Signature Experiences Collection® (SEC). It’s a true Canadian adventure, with a chance to get up close to whales, polar bears, seals and the occasional walrus. It’s a worthy member of the Collection, which is all set to swell in spring 2012 when the CTC announces the latest entries to a program that is fast becoming an essential resource for the travel trade.
Previous SEC case studies:
Heartland International Travel & Tours
As part of the ongoing series of case studies on the Collection in CTC News, Graham Dickson, Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions Chief Expedition Officer, tells of the passions that drive his company forward and the pride in being a standard bearer for Canada’s North. With eight full-time staff, and backed up by 50 others handling field operations, these Arctic experts deliver great tourism experiences.
When did you decide to get into the tourism business?
Our first trip in Nunavut was back in 1999. We started out with a diving trip to see walruses and bowhead whales, and the following year we grew to two trips. Then three trips the year after that. The next stage was taking surface photographers and TV film crews. We’ve now worked with most of the national broadcasters from around the world. As an example, we did the location management for Disney when they came up to Nunavut to film “Oceans.” We’ve always worked closely with the local communities throughout the Arctic, sharing the knowledge of local guides and elders. We show visitors the culture, history and wildlife in the Arctic at different times of year.
What inspired you to get started?
A love of diving was my inspiration—I’m a master instructor. I have a strong desire to dive with and lead others alongside marine Arctic life. A lot of the best wildlife in the Arctic is seen as inaccessible, but by using coordinated transportation and comfortable accommodation we make it both accessible and enjoyable.
What’s the biggest challenge facing your business today?
Getting the word out about our business is still a challenge. So is fighting the misconception that the Arctic is always a cold and somewhat dreary place. It’s anything but that. We go to places that are bubbling with wildlife. The problem is that when you show the Arctic to most of the world, people shiver! It’s not all cold and inhospitable. The different latitudes and different times of year make a considerable difference, with spring coming much earlier in Labrador, say, or Nunavik than in the high Arctic.
Have you worked with the CTC before?
It has been a growing and exciting relationship for us. We received support as well as from the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation, for a National Geographic trip to film polar bears in James Bay while beginning to evaluate the potential for future tourism products in the region. We’ve also had help from CTC’s international offices in terms of getting introductions to international tour operators.
What motivated you to apply to the Signature Experiences Collection®?
We were encouraged to do so after Rendez-vous Canada in 2011. We believe we represent some of the best aspects of what Canada is known for around the world. We have the broadest coverage up here and the highest-end experiences. Being part of the Collection is good for ourselves, and good for Canada as a whole.
Tell us a bit more about the experience that is featured in the Collection.
The Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari is special. The floe edge is a unique aspect of the Arctic, where the land and sea ice ends and the ocean begins. It’s a bit like the water line of a beach, except the ice is very thick, making it feel more like the edge of a pool. Here you get funnels for marine life like whales, which go to certain inlets to feed, give birth and moult. Whales patrol along the floe edge waiting for it to disappear, so we set up camps nearby before setting out to see narwhals, bow-heads and polar bears. It’s an ecologically alive area as the floe edge recedes. We use large safari tents, big enough for you to be able stand up in, raised beds and down mattresses: it’s luxury comfort in there. At least half the staff on the tour comes from local Inuit communities, enabling visitors to get a real feel for the culture they are surrounded by and connect with the land and its people. The geography is unique, with pingos pushing through the ice and cliffs full of migratory and nesting birds. The culture, the geography and the wildlife together just make a great experience.
What kind of travellers does your business attract?
We get many different types. We have those who want to go on their own, especially professional or serious amateur photographers. There are also a lot who just want to enjoy themselves; these are typically well-travelled people who come from almost anywhere on the planet. They are typically international visitors, and not taking their first vacation. They come from all over: China, Europe, even Brazil. We’ve had honeymooners, and even three generations of one family.
What immediate benefits do you see for Arctic Kingdom now that you are part of the Collection?
First benefit is the recognition. We take pride in being the best of a particular aspect of Canada. As a Canadian company, we think the Canadian Arctic is the most special part of the region. It will also help deal with the challenge of Alaska in terms of the branding of the north. Arctic still means Alaska to a lot of people around the world. So we hope that there will be outreach through CTC that will bring awareness of our company and the tourism products we offer. In the same way that CTC is an ambassador for Canada abroad, we’re ambassadors for Canada’s North. We go into these very small Inuit communities that want tourism, but it’s a complex process. We provide training and exposure for these small remote communities that have something they want to share. It’s a privilege to do so.