The service sectors, especially health and education services, have the potential to attract more people and bring significant development to Finnish tourism, believes Dr Johan R. Edelheim, director of the Multidimensional Tourism Institute (MTI).
"We have to think what tourism products we have and how we can make them attractive to the people across the world", says Dr Edelheim, suggesting that the government should look at the tourism industry from a global viewpoint.
He points to Finland's excellent medical system, which could easily be turned into a marketable tourism product to attract those seeking high-quality medical services.
Untapped potential is to be found in educational services, too. Dr Edelheim refers to Australia, where he lived for years: educational institutions there provide diploma and degree programmes at very expensive rates.
"For many countries student tourism provides two-way profit. In Finland, education is still mostly tuition free but perhaps fees could be charged for overseas students in certain programmes. The Finnish government could do this through providers from the private and public sectors."
Since August 2011, Dr Edelheim has headed the unique Multidimensional Tourism Institute in Finnish Lapland, a unit which combines all educational levels in the field, as well as innovative research and development activities. He notes that as a field of study tourism is multidimensional and interdisciplinary, and that the most common theme in international tourism research is systems of management.
"Responsibility comes first, in both the tourism industry and tourism research, as resources are diminishing globally. The tourism industries need to take care of resources in a responsible manner", he says, citing the MTI's guiding principle.
"It means that both the tourism industry and tourism research must be not only economically viable, but also socially, culturally, politically and ecologically sustainable; they also have to work hard to make tourism worthwhile."
According to Dr Edelheim, businesses are often focused solely on daily operations. However, entrepreneurs need to be given an opportunity to develop services for 5, 10 or 15 years ahead, and thus prepare themselves for new opportunities. This is where research is needed: to help anticipate the future. While research creates new information, education gives future professionals ideas on how to improve their operations.
It was a love of travel and languages which prompted Dr Edelheim to go into the tourism sector; he has traveled his entire life and worked in the hospitality industry since the age of 16. With his integrity, seriousness and passion for tourism, life has taken him to his present position, where he is developing new visions for Finnish tourism.
"Currently, seasonality is a big challenge for tourism in Finland. Work needs to be done to rethink what attracts people here in order to even out the seasonal variations in the numbers of tourists", he notes, and clarifies:
"We have a huge number of tourists during Christmas, New Year's, Easter and winter and relatively few in summer, but we should have them the year round."
The main barriers to the expansion of tourism in Finland are a rigid way of think that hinders the development of wholly novel tourism products and services, the lack of global points of view and the lack of an independent tourism authority. Dr Edelheim says the national government should do more for tourism, because local authorities are too often focused on short-term matters.
He compares tourism in Finland and Australia and notes that in Australia every state, as well as the federal government, has a tourism ministry; most of the universities have a tourism faculty and strong lobbies working to secure support for tourism research.
In the case of Finland, tourism is the responsibility of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, and Finnish universities – apart from University of Lapland – do not offer tourism studies as a major field of study. In addition, the Academy of Finland, the principal funding agency for basic research in the country, does not list tourism and hospitality research as a field in its own right, which makes it harder for people with good ideas to compete successfully for research funding.
Still, Dr Edelheim is feeling positive about the development of tourism in Finland. Where tourism in Lapland, the land of contrasts, is concerned, he expresses satisfaction over the
good infrastructure, the attractions and even the climate:
"For example, I am proud of Santa Claus village on the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi; it is well designed for tourists and a good place to be entertained on holiday. But unfortunately there are hardly any images or signs of Christmas and Santa Claus in the centre of Rovaniemi, although the city is the home town of Santa Claus".
"And, in addition to Santa, we need to present more proudly what we have to offer, such as our beautiful nature, harmonious architecture and other functioning, well-designed tourism services."
According to Dr Edelheim, the region could be made more attractive to tourists the year round, especially if more consideration is given to developing tourism services that make the area stand out in the competition with other destinations.
"We need to look at other parts of the world, at what they are doing and what the growing sectors are. And we need to see our services from the point of view of the people from other parts of the world, not from our own viewpoint – at the same time remembering that people like to travel for difference", he says.
He proposes that more attention should be paid to soft things, such as personal service, well-crafted stories and atmosphere.
On this note, he goes on to observe: "Intangible elements mean much more to the success of a region than things, products, and the built environment. Tangible attractions are easy to copy and buildings grow old – but narratives stay fresh because they can be retold in different ways over and over again. Our cultural heritage plays a big part here: its living indigenous traditions are one of the most powerful tourism resources in Lapland. And best of all, stories are not dependent on the weather or the seasons – they can be enjoyed at any time."
Nevertheless, not even the tourism business can be prepared for everything.
"Unplanned experiences are the best: you go somewhere by mistake and are suddenly involved in unanticipated events. Sometimes the experience is positive, sometimes not, but generally speaking that is where the good travel stories are born."
Photos: Kaisa Sirén
|Johan R. Edelheim
|Director of the Multidimensional Tourism Institute in Rovaniemi since August 2011
Started his tourism career at the age of 16 in a local pizzeria, first job overseas at the age of 18 as a hotel trainee in Kiel, Germany.
Has worked in the tourism industry ever since: first in hotels in Finland, Spain, Sweden and United States, then for over a decade as a lecturer in tourism in universities and colleges in Australia, China, Thailand, Singapore and Finland
PhD in Cultural Studies in 2007 (Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)
Research interests include culturally critical tourism and hospitality studies; tourism and hospitality education; and clarifications of tourism and hospitality concepts.
Citizen of Australia and Finland
Speaks Finnish, English, Swedish, German and Norwegian
|The Multidimensional Tourism Institute
|A unique community of knowledge and skills
Combines all tourism education on offer in the local institutions of higher education, applied sciences and vocational education, as well as innovative research and development activities
Founded in 2009 by the Department of Tourism Research at the University of Lapland, the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at the Rovaniemi University of Applied Sciences, and Lapland Tourism College
The only institute in Finland providing the whole range of tourism education: the students graduate as professionals and experts in tourism, working as policy advisors, cooks and waiters, hotel managers, tour guiding entrepreneurs, or as researchers and teachers specialising in hospitality, tourism or leisure.
Scientific and applied research in culturally, ecologically, economically, politically and socially responsible tourism
Four sites – two in Rovaniemi, one in Kittilä, and one in Sodankylä. Personnel: 120. Number of students: approx. 1,200.