Greenland's not for sale, but it is open for business

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Camp Kiattua in Greenland's fjord system.
Camp Kiattua in Greenland's fjord system. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Arctic Nomad
Felicity Long
Felicity Long

Heard any good jokes about Greenland lately? 

Humor aside, Greenlanders are making the most of the international spotlight thrust upon them in recent weeks after news broke that President Trump had reportedly floated the idea of the U.S. buying the autonomous territory from Denmark.

The official statement from the government of Greenland is: "We have a good cooperation with the USA, and we see it as an expression of greater interest in investing in our country and the possibilities we offer. Of course, Greenland is not for sale."

It is, however, open for business, and since people are talking about Greenland, the island's tourism office is eager to get the word out that tourists, and especially Americans, are welcome with open arms.

"[The U.S.] is one of our top five priority markets, and we see a great potential in Greenland for all the American adventure travelers who wish to visit a different and out-of-the-beaten-path destination," said Idrissia Thestrup, VisitGreenland's head of marketing.

"We have a tiny indigenous population, and our destination requires a pioneering spirit," Thestrup told Travel Weekly, adding: "We believe Americans have what it takes to fully enjoy as visitors what Greenland has to offer in terms of nature and culture adventures."

The idea, she said, is to turn the recent global attention on the autonomous territory into something positive by building on the work the tourist board has been proactively engaged in over the past few years.

"We have established strong business relations with the American adventure tourism industry, which means that we now welcome about 8,000 tourists from the U.S. [per year]. Approximately 4,300 arrive by plane and 3,700 by cruise ship."

During the period from 2014 to 2017, Greenland saw year-over-year growth in tourism of around 10, although growth in 2018 dipped to around 3%, she said.

Touting the spirit of the locals -- who are primarily the descendants of Inuit hunters, Norse settlers, Northern European traders, missionaries and explorers -- as a key draw to the island, Thestrup said. "We are the local backcountry guides and boat skippers, hunters and dog sled drivers. Everywhere [visitors] go, the uniqueness of Greenland comes out through their encounters with the locals."

For the record, Greenland is the world's largest island, and 75% of the land is covered with ice. The ice-free area is located along the coasts, where the 56,000 inhabitants of the island live.

The capital, Nuuk, has about 18,000 inhabitants. Greenlanders speak Greenlandic, and they use the Danish krone as their currency.

There are no direct flights from the U.S., but the destination is accessible through three-and-a-half-hour flights from Reykjavik and four-and-a-half-hour flights from Copenhagen.

There are no roads connecting towns and settlements, so locals use planes, helicopters, boats or -- in winter -- dog sleds and snowmobiles to get around.

As to common misconceptions, Thestrup pointed out that there are no polar bears roaming the streets of the towns and settlements -- you're more likely to see sheep ranching and vegetable farms in the south -- but they do roam wild in the northern and eastern regions of the island.

There are three Unesco World Heritage sites: the Ilulissat Icefjord, which boasts the largest number of icebergs in the world; the Inuit Hunting Grounds in the Arctic Circle region; and the historical Norse ruins in the south.

Not surprisingly, some adventure tour operators are sitting up and taking notice of the interest in the destination. For example, Intrepid Travel reported a whopping 237% spike in travel to the Greenland section of its site over the past weekend, and it has launched a Greenland Expedition for 2020, its first dedicated tour of the island.

Red Savannah is offering a Greenland Discovery itinerary that includes a stay at Camp Kiattua in the fjord system, accessible via boat or helicopter, with activities like kayaking, salmon fishing and whale-watching.

Abercrombie & Kent added a 48-day Grand Arctic Voyage and a 15-day Ultimate Iceland & Greenland Cruise to its 2020 line up.

Other options include Scenic's Iceland & Greenland Explorer cruise, Ponant's Greenland of Great Explorers cruise and Poseidon Expeditions' Arctic Sights and Northern Lights cruise that includes Greenland. And Off the Map Travel offers a range of Greenland packages that feature stays at an igloo lodge.

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