Celebrating the past and looking to the future at AECO’s 20th anniversary

November 9th, 2023

Photo: AECO

Increased local value in Arctic communities, future technology for the sake of the environment, and supporting Arctic research. These were prominent topics at AECO’s anniversary conference for responsible expedition cruise tourism.  

– Since 2003, AECO’s members have been dedicated to operating according to the highest possible standards in the Arctic. Looking at the range of participants here, I am convinced that our work is important, highly appreciated, and respected. Being an AECO member is a seal of quality in the industry, says Frigg Jørgensen, AECO’s Executive Director.

AECO has grown from eight founding members to over 70 and is now involved in collaborations with local communities, authorities, researchers, and many other stakeholders throughout the Arctic.

The collaborations were very visible during Meet the Destinations, a day dedicated to making the industry even more focused on local value creation. Operators and local stakeholders met to share lessons learned for a better understanding of each other’s needs, followed by the opportunity to network, and showcase products at the first ever AECO Market Place.

Economic impact

Christopher Gerlach from the Government of Nunavut thinks that AECO’s operators are doing well in communicating with communities and says that this is the most important key to sustainable tourism, together with bringing economic income to the communities.

–  Cruise ships have environmental impact as well as an economic one, so people need to know there is a benefit from accepting cruise ship into their local communities.

The will to collaborate more closely was manifested in a memorandum of understanding, MoU, that was signed on stage by AECO and several stakeholders for the JADA, Joint Arctic Destination Arena, project.

–  Cruise tourism can have a very good impact to the sustainability of the economics in Icelandic areas, if it is used right. AECO’s members have a great interest in communicating with our locals and that is very important for us, says Dagbjört Dúna Rúnarsdóttir from Visit West Iceland, one of the signing stakeholders.

Future technology

Another way to reach sustainability in the industry is through future technology, which part of the conference was dedicated to.

–  There is a shift in how the industry works with sustainability, mainly driven by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the EU, towards emission reduction and enhanced efficiency. This will shortly hit our bottom lines if we don’t start innovating aggressively, says William Bennett, Director, Marine Operations at Quark Expeditions, in a panel discussion on the subject.

Will the industry adapt?

–  Yes, it is in our guidelines and values and in our corporate emission statements. Non-compliance affects our reputation and will cost operators heavily, says William Bennett.

The technology that can be implemented ranges from solar power, wind assist and alternative fuels to big data, Artificial Intelligence and much more.

Science and research for sustainability

Another way to contribute to sustainability is by being a player in science and research. Today, several expedition cruise vessels are designed with capacity for science.

According to Wassim Daoud, Head of CSR and Sustainability at Ponant Expeditions, they had 70 scientists onboard with 23 different projects last year. At the conference he explained that, for Ponant, science is a pillar for innovation and sustainability. Their science program is based on data collection, scientist on board and tourist involvement and they mean that science should be shared with communities.

AECO in 20 years

The conference closed with a panel of members from AECO’s Executive Committee, imagining the industry in 2043.

–   In 20 years AECO’s Secretariat is double the size, have increased regional presence and increased cooperation with stakeholders, says Karin Strand, the Chair of the EC.

–  Perhaps, authorities who recognize AECO’s high standards and the members commitment to AECO’s operational guidelines and obligations, will require that all operators in Arctic waters are either a member of or in good standing with AECO, Peter Garapick, member of the EC concluded.

Contact: aeco@aeco.no


What is JADA?

JADA is a brand-new project that was officially established at the Arctic Cruise Conference with a Memorandum of Understanding. The stakeholders that signed the MoU have agreed to take part in efforts that aims to:

  • Increase dialogue and cooperation between destinations in AECO’s operational area.
  • Increase dialogue and cooperation between destinations and AECO operators.
  • Join forces in ensuring sustainable tourism in the Arctic.

Signing at the conference: Margrét Björk, Visit West Iceland, Þuríður Aradóttir, Visit Reykjanes, Mads-Daniel Skifte, Sermersooq Business, Eva-Britt Kornfeldt, Visit Svalbard, Christopher Gerlach, Government of Nunavut.

Additional signatories: Destination Diskobay, Visit Westfjords, Austurbrú, Markaðsstofa Höfuðborgarsvæðisins.

Left: Frigg Jørgensen, AECO’s Executive Director signing the MoU for JADA.

Right: All the signatories at the conference, from the left, Christopher Gerlach, Government of Nunavut, Mads-Daniel Skifte, Sermersooq Business, Frigg Jørgensen, AECO, Margrét Björk, Visit West Iceland, Þuríður Aradóttir, Visit Reykjanes and Eva-Britt Kornfeldt, Visit Svalbard. Photos: AECO

AECO Market Place

“The AECO Market Place is one of the ways we work to ensure that the expedition cruise industry brings value to the Arctic. It was very exciting to walk around in the room and see new connections being established between locals and operators. We look forward to developing this further.”

Gyða Guðmundsdóttir, Head of Community Engagement, AECO

Photo: AECO

Search and Rescue

AECO is involved in several search and rescue-collaborations, and the dedication to this work had an important spot at the conference. Jay Collins, Maritime Search and Rescue Superintendent of the Canadian Coast Guard’s Arctic Region, spoke about the importance of cooperation and exercises in the North.

“We need to have all the stakeholders at the table to get an accuratere presentation and picture of what search and rescue means and how to best respond to incidents in the Arctic.”

Photo: AECO