The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators is working to identify best practices for responsible community engagement in the COVID-19 era.
Trust and transparency are key
Overall, trust and transparency are key, according to AECO.
The 2020 Arctic cruise season was severely impacted by the pandemic. As a result, many Arctic coastal communities lost an important source of income. As vaccination progresses, both communities and operators are preparing for the time when it will be safe to travel again. While waiting for operations to resume, the Arctic expedition cruise industry is preparing. Dialogue with local communities is an important part of this effort.
To facilitate dialogue between operators and local stakeholders, AECO developed an infographic that outlines important principles for responsible community engagement.
This lists eight steps, starting with noting how COVID-19 has affected the community and determining what local and national regulations currently apply. Operators must also assess their own capacity, possibilities and opportunities to implement COVID measures, and learn and understand concerns of local communities and national authorities.
It then follows to design company protocols implementing current regulations and community requirements, and develop a communication strategy. Maintaining an ongoing dialogue with local communities to keep them updated and continuous monitoring of the situation is yet another step. Further, operators must continuously adapt and adjust the protocol according to national and regional measures and community sentiment.
Community engagement more important than ever
According to AECO Executive Director Frigg Jørgensen, community engagement is more important than ever.
'We know that many communities eagerly await the time when they can again welcome travelers, along with the income and job opportunities that tourism brings. At the same time, communities need to feel confident that the reopening is safe and well-regulated,' Jørgensen said.
'Going forward, the expedition cruise industry will continue to work with local communities when it comes to COVID-19 mitigation. Good, transparent communication is essential, in addition to adapting national and regional measures and protocols, and the sentiment of the community in question.'
Throughout the pandemic, AECO has worked closely with authorities and community representatives to ensure a safe resumption of Arctic cruising. While the timeline for reopening of Arctic destinations is not yet clear, Jørgensen said the expedition cruise industry is making sure that safety protocols are rigorous and updated to reflect the latest scientific knowledge and technological advances.