You are here: / Case Studies / Arctic tourism


Problems and conflicts of high-latitude tourism.

Recently, European high-latitude tourism has become more and more popular. Due to economical problems in Russia even the largest icebreakers of the world have started to be involved in the Arctic tourist cruises. High-latitude coastal areas are attractive for tourists. The Russian sector of Europe may be subdivided into two main groups:

  • Coasts of the Barents and the White Seas.This is more or less inhabited land. However, basic roads, hunting houses or deserted settlements of previous times exist here.
  • High-latitude archipelagos. Cruises to Franz Josef Land and the Nova Zembla islands may include even a visit to the North Pole on nuclear icebreakers (e.g. Yamal) or helicopters (sometimes - with last kilometres on skies). These areas have no permanent population. Infrastructure here is completely absent or undeveloped.


The main problems

Conflicts concerning the high-latitude tourism are as follows:

Infrastructure inadequate. Visiting the so called Arctic deserts, tourists sometimes cannot behave in a sustainable way even if they wanted to. For example, absence of specially constructed planked footways on some Arctic islands (see below) leads to the trampling down of the thin vegetation cover. This worries tourists but they cannot avoid or change the situation. Furthermore, infrastructure development is not projected, since the few tour operators dealing with Arctic tourism are not interested in large investments. Nobody can force them since there are no controlling entities in the area. Another example is the Franz Josef Land, legally speaking a Protected Area but permanent protecting service is absent here. So, the tourism in the area is actually uncontrolled. Formally, special observers representing the regional nature protection authorities are included into the staff of the Arctic cruises. Yet, those people are usually not qualified for the job (it is not their main speciality) and they depend on the tour organisers because the firm provides them with services on a level with all tourists (including feeding in the high-class restaurant) free of charge.

Neglecting of natural processes. In high-latitude areas life is highly concentrated on small sites (vegetation, bird colonies, seal-rookeries, walrus shore and ice grounds). These sites are both the most attractive for tourists and for nature. However, guides frequently visit them in the course of foot or boat excursions. Moreover, such sites are specially visited during the helicopter excursions from the tourist icebreakers.

Tourism development is not planned well. Activities are planned only for short-term perspective.

Insufficient environmental knowledge of tour providers. Icebreaker based excursions to bird colonies located on coastal cliffs are not harmful while helicopter excursions are extremely dangerous to nestlings and young birds. Pursuit of walruses or polar bears on motorboats with tourists in aspiration to see them from up close so they can make better photographs leads to stress for the animals. However, that is exactly the attraction for which the tourists pay good money. So it is only partly insufficient environmental knowledge of tour providers and to a greater extent it is their tendency to please the tourists.

Low level of education. Environmental knowledge of tour operators and guides working in the Arctic is not always high enough. Usually they have no special professional training and certification. A Special Code of Conduct for the Arctic Coasts (for both tour organisers and tourists) is absent. Even if a tour organiser does not possess all required documents nobody controls his activities.

Carrying capacity neglected. High Arctic vegetation is extremely vulnerable and rehabilitates extremely slow. Visiting of high-latitude areas by large quantities of tourists leads to the impact of vegetation (e.g. some islands of the Franz Josef Land Archipelago are visited by approximately a thousand tourists during summer).

Deterioration of natural resources. Environmental deterioration in the Arctic environment may be caused by the use of inadequate transport (teams of hunters-tourists are transported to the places of hunting on caterpillar tractors). In many cases that causes disturbance or even destruction of the permafrost layer abundant in the Arctic, further landscape erosion and consequent ravine formation.


Actors, location and Time

The Agency VICAAR ( "Victory in the Arctic and Antarctic Research") was founded in 1991 in St. Petersburg. The director of the agency is Dr. Victor Boyarsky, a famous polar explorer, member of the International TRANSANTARCTICA Expedition, the International Arctic Project Expedition, having crossed the Arctic Ocean with dog-sled and canoe from the Russian Arctic via the North Pole to Canada. The personnel consists of the professional scientists and polar explorers - acting as logistics supervisors and lead guides and creators of the programs.


In tourism, VICAAR focuses on the educational aims and preservation of the beauty of nature. It gives clients time and opportunity to enjoy, appreciate and learn about the unique and fascinating Wild Nature regions. Its programs are aimed at providing maximum safety for all participants with minimum impact on the environment. VICAAR intends to develop this form of tourism in a more sustainable way.


The activity in the field of the sustainable Arctic tourism development is not specially financed. To a greater extent it is the team mentality which is moving VICAAR towards an environmentally friendly way of behaviour. 



In order to make the Arctic tourism more sustainable it is intended to use the following main forms of activity:

  • Development of environmental education during the tours and cruises
  • Application of "best practice"
  • Raising of awareness of local population in respect of the nature protection issues
  • Creation of appropriate infrastructure where it is possible

Further information

On line:;



This site is optimized for viewing with Internet Explorer 4 and higher