Tourism in Alaska is a growth industry, with much of the revenue generated below the Arctic Circle. But the Arctic’s unique natural environment and tourists’ desire to see the Arctic before it changes – sometimes called “last chance tourism” – is drawing more and more travelers above the Arctic Circle. The increase in nature-based tourism offers Arctic communities around the world development opportunities, but also risks to community and environmental systems. A new paper coauthored by Jennifer Schmidt, Assistant Professor of Natural Resource Management and Policy at ISER, looks at factors important to community resilience in the face of growing tourism above the Arctic Circle.

woman taking a picture along a beach with icebergs in the background

credit: Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

Nature-based tourism, resource dependence, and resilience for Arctic communities: framing complex issues in a changing environment,” in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, suggests using a socio-ecological systems (SES) approach to determine a community’s vulnerability to over-dependence upon nature-based tourism. Important factors to consider are a community’s ability to control development and the environment’s adaptability to change.

Global markets determine growth in nature-based tourism and also control economic diversification in communities. If tourism grows and other sources of revenue dry up, a community becomes susceptible to the boom and bust cycle. Natural resources drawing tourists are also an important factor. If resources are depleted by increased tourism and other changes, they are no long available to the community for traditional as well as economic-development use.

The authors of “Nature-based tourism” argue that “community resilience depends on the potential to regulate tourism locally, for example, by being able to regulate traffic through licenses or by having the financial and institutional capacity to build appropriate tourism infrastructure or even make investments that are not-tourism related.” They offer a framework for decision-making and measurable indicators to determine a community’s resilience in the face of growing nature-based tourism.

Sisneros-Kidd, A. M., C. Monz, V. Hausner, J. Schmidt, and D. Clark. 2019. Nature-based tourism, resource dependence, and resilience of Arctic communities: framing complex issues in a changing environment. Journal of Sustainable Tourism:1-18.