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New airports are central to Greenland’s development – but they cannot stand alone

Improved infrastructure will provide new opportunities for Greenlandic business and tourism, but work is needed on the framework if the benefits are to be reaped.

In just a few years’ time, two new international airports will open in Greenland after a huge and ambitious construction project, which will allow large transatlantic passenger planes to take off and land in Nuuk and Ilulissat. Locally, there are high expectations towards the airports as they will shorten the travel time to key locations in Greenland, which in turn will provide opportunities for tourism and Greenlandic businesses.

However, key players stress that the airports are just a tool – more hotels, restaurants and tourist experiences will also need to be established to accommodate the new visitors. Similarly, great care should be taken to develop tourism, in particular, at a pace that allows Greenlandic society to keep up.

The development will take many years

“The new airports will support the ongoing growth in Greenland, but we should not imagine that they alone will have the airlines and tourists queueing up from day one. That is a process that will take many years and demand a great deal from us as a society. Greenland’s business community has a major task ahead of it to demonstrate that the airports have been worth the investment,” emphasises Christian Keldsen, Director of the Greenland Business Association.

Lufthavne i Grønland

At the same time, however, positive development depends on housing, institutions, schools and the rest of the civil infrastructure being in place, so that the local communities can accommodate the workers who will be serving the visitors.

Sustainable tourism must encompass all of Greenland

“It is also essential that it becomes easier for future tourists to experience more than just Nuuk and Ilulissat – both to make Greenland an even more attractive destination in the long run, and to prevent mass tourism occurring in too few locations. Greenland is a fantastic country to visit, and it must continue to be so,” emphasises Jens Lauridsen, CEO of Kalaallit Airports, which is building and will later operate the new airports.

There is also a need to rethink Greenlandic tourism as a year-round possibility, he adds, and not just as primarily a place to visit in the summer months. This will also provide opportunities to develop communities and jobs at a different level than today – including in areas that lie far from the two new transatlantic airports.

“That’s why the municipalities and the government need to get ready to take the next steps – including to ensure that the framework is in place, and that a basis is created for the necessary follow-up investments in the supporting infrastructure,” says Martin Kviesgaard, Managing Director of the Bank of Greenland.

The basic infrastructure needs development

Specifically, Martin Kviesgaard suggests that Greenlandic society should put more emphasis on working with property development plans and land allocation, and that attention should be paid to developing basic facilities such as sewer systems and roads – including outside Nuuk and Ilulissat.

Jens Lauridsen emphasises that at aviation fairs and in other contexts, he finds there is “very, very great” interest in Greenland as a destination. But the airport director also expects new routes from, for example, North America and Europe to be established over time, as Greenland’s infrastructure improves and its tourism capacity grows.

Greenland should learn from the experience of the Faroe Islands

“The framework is important, but developments are already well underway, although I don’t think we should expect a ‘big bang’ in 2025. Experience from the Faroe Islands shows that development comes in parallel with the development of reason-to-go offers and increased hotel and transport capacity. This development is already ongoing, and it will continue in the years after the airports open,” says Martin Kviesgaard.

“In addition, it is extremely important that a well-thought-out pricing structure is decided upon which will make it attractive to use the airports. This will make it realistic for the many tourism operators to start planning even more investments than those already on the drawing-board,” says the bank director.

The airports are an element in a bigger picture

Christian Keldsen of the Greenland Business Association adds that we should also remember the many opportunities that the airports and, in the long term, new international routes will open up for the Greenlandic business community as a whole.

“These things are connected. Faster access to Greenland will facilitate the recruitment of new staff and key resources from outside. It will also make it much easier to hold meetings in Nuuk or Ilulissat, for example, to discuss commercial development or investments,” says Christian Keldsen of the Greenland Business Association.

“Currently, you need to have a few days available if you are travelling to Greenland from abroad and back again. But in the future it will probably be possible to do it in much less time, which will make it easier to do business. And the more we as a society think of airports as part of a whole, the better the position we will be in to seize and develop the opportunities they offer,” he adds.

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