Arviat Community Ecotourism Initiative: Creating a Local Tourism Economy and Pride in Culture in a Remote Inuit Community

Arviat Community Ecotourism Initiative: Creating a Local Tourism Economy and Pride in Culture in a Remote Inuit Community

Qaggiqtiit Cultural Performance Group

Qaggiqtiit Cultural Performance Group


By Mike Robbins, Partner, the Tourism Company and Project Manager for the Arviat Community Ecotourism initiative


The Arviat Community Ecotourism (ACE) initiative is a grassroots project involving many individuals and several small businesses in Arviat, Nunavut (Canada's newest territory) with a vision to establish a sustainable community-based tourism enterprise.


Over the past 3 years, under contract with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc, the Tourism Company has been managing a team of experts assisting with local capacity building, product development and marketing. The ACE development program is being funded over five years with Inuit land claim monies. Arviat is a largely Inuit community situated on the west side of Hudson Bay with a population close to 3,000 (air access only). The community was selected as a beneficiary for the tourism development funds for the following reasons:

  • It is one of the more traditional communities in Nunavut;
  • Excellent wildlife viewing opportunities;
  • Just north of Churchill Manitoba a successful international tourism destination that attracts close to 20,000 visitors every year;
  • One of the most southerly communities in Nunavut with good air access;
  • Some past experience with tourism and strong interest;
  • Entrepreneurial business ethic;
  • Need for economic development and opportunities for youth.

Caribou with Fall Colours

Caribou with Fall Colours


There are a number of compelling reasons why Arviat is becoming a sought after, exclusive and unique Arctic destination.

  • Arviamiut (the people of Arviat) are the hosts sharing their culture with pride;
  • ACE is true community-based tourism – developed, owned and operated locally;
  • Awe inspiring wildlife spectacles;
  • A spectacular landscape and skyscape.

The Development Process

Extensive community consultation was an integral part of the development of ACE beginning in 2009. ACE is community-based so it is an open process. The following consultation techniques were used to engage the whole community over the past 3 years:


Relationship building with the local Inuit

  • Participating in community events like music festivals and Hamlet Days;
  • Open microphone sessions for musicians to help assess the musical talent in the community;
  • Hiring or working with local people on weekends to get out on the land.

Planning for tourism

  • Radio talk-back shows, a popular means of soliciting ideas and obtaining feedback;
  • Community meetings, where as many as 25 people would attend;
  • Individual meetings and drop-in sessions with those taking an interest in tourism;
  • Community group meetings to ensure all community groups ranging from Hunters & Trappers to elders groups to the Historical Society were supportive and fully apprised of plans and progress.

Education and training

  • An ACE poster was designed, translated and placed in strategic locations throughout the community;
  • Ongoing training workshops have been held covering a range of skills from cooking to basic bookkeeping;
  • Hosting performer auditions for traditional musicians, drum dancers and throat singers.

Cooking Class

ACE Cooking Student


It was recognized early on that there was strong interest and support for some type of tourism development, particularly if it could be community based, and provide benefits to many community members.


Over the past 2 years The Tourism Company team of experts have been providing training in a wide range of areas including basic hospitality, cooking and caring for visitors, small business start-up and entrepreneurship, historical interpretation (with assistance from parks Canada), cultural performance staging, eco-guding and outfitting on the land, marine and commercial boating skills, tourism marketing (from internet to travel trade), and receptive tourism operations.

The Product

At the heart of Arviat's tourism product is the community's strong cultural heritage. Cultural programs are offered in various combinations to provide anything from a half-day to a three-day program for visitors, including the following activities:

  • Visits to a traditional tupiq (skin tent) and/or an iglu;
  • Dog-sled rides;
  • Boat excursions to a nearby National Historic Site;
  • Interpretation of local cultural heritage sites;
  • Demonstrations of Inuit survival skills;
  • Visits with artists, elders and story-tellers;
  • Opportunities to buy local arts and crafts;
  • Films and lectures on Inuit history;
  • Throat-singing and drum-dancing;
  • Participation in high school cultural programs;
  • Plus dining on local foods including caribou, musk-ox, muktuk (beluga whale) and Arctic char.

Tupiq Program

Tupiq Program: In the spring with long days and direct sun reflecting off the snow the Inuit traditionally used bone "sun glasses", like the ones the man in this picture is wearing. The tupiq program involved elders going into the tent with guests to talk about and show the old tools, instruments and toys/games.


While Inuit culture is the heart of ACE, the big drawing cards are polar bears and caribou. Arviat is situated on the polar bear migration route, north up the west coast of Hudson Bay as they search for sea ice in October and November. Every spring Arviat experiences a second wildlife spectacle with massive caribou migration which passes by just inland from the community. In the summer months visitors can travel by boat along the coast to view arctic wildlife including polar bears, caribou, fox and beluga whales.


Polar Bear

Polar Bear


These are world-class wildlife-viewing opportunities in themselves, made that much more attractive by the chance to experience first-hand the strong cultural heritage that remains vibrant in Arviat.


Progress has been substantial. Four new tourism-related businesses are in start-up mode – two outfitters, a cultural program operator and a B&B. A local Tourism Co-ordinator has been hired by the Hamlet with 3 year pilot funding from the government of Nunavut. The marketing strategy for Arviat, including a strong web presence, has been launched ( Relationships with Churchill-based tour operators and others internationally have been developed.


The first FAM tour (familiarization tour) for five operator-partners in May 2011 was a tremendous success. Several tour groups from Australia and Japan were hosted in the community and a number of prominent media groups have visited the community to film the ACE program. Within the next year, the flow of tourists to Arviat will begin in earnest. The Tourism Company's role is to continue to facilitate the ACE development through 2013/14.


Packages currently on offer in Arviat include:

  • Arctic winter getaways featuring dog sledding and igloo building;
  • Arctic summer getaways featuring ATV and boat excursions;
  • Spring caribou migration trips;
  • Summer multi-activity and wildlife viewing trips;
  • Cultural day extensions from Churchill;
  • Fall colours and caribou trips; and
  • October/November polar bear viewing trips.

Four tour operators are currently listing Arviat packages in their tariffs and sales brochures for 2012. In February, Arviat, the Gellini Bear Camp and some of the participants in the ACE program were featured on an episode of 'Born to Explore' starring Richard Wiese, on ABC TV.


Sustainable community-based tourism is on its way in Arviat at a scale and scope unprecedented in Nunavut.

About the Tourism Company

the Tourism Company is a management consulting firm specializing in the tourism industry. The three partners in the firm - D'Arcy McKittrick, Mike Robbins and Jill Vandal - each bring distinct individual expertise and background to the company providing a unique mix of tourism consulting skills. Established in 1994, the company is recognized as one of Canada's leading tourism consulting firms. The three partners have worked in all Canadian provinces and territories and in a broad range of international destinations including the United States, Europe (west and east), South America, New Zealand, northern Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean.

Author Bio: Mike Robbins

Mike RobbinsMike has over 30 years experience as a professional tourism consultant working in Canada and New Zealand. With an environmental planning educational background it has been natural for Michael to focus his professional career on planning and developing more sustainable tourism models – tourism that considers the triple bottom line: economic, social and environmental. Michael is a recognized expert in strategic planning and marketing, feasibility assessments for new tourism ventures, business planning, master planning for tourism resorts and attractions.


Mike is a member of the Board of Directors with the Centre for Responsible Travel (CREST) based in Washington DC and affiliated with Stanford University. Through Tides Canada, Michael has a donor directed fund (7th Generation Fund) providing assistance to various Aboriginal tourism and environmental conservation initiatives across Canada.


>> See Mike Robbins' member profile



The following TIES members have also contributed to the ACE project:





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