Vigorous villages - the future of tourism in the Arctic. Article by tourism researcher Outi Rantala in Latitude 2014.
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What path will Arctic tourism take? We asked researchers in the field.

Lapland is often conceived of as the “tourism province of Finland”. This gives the University of Lapland a unique possibility to invest its energies in research and education relating to northern tourism. At the same time, the location sets expectations for researchers to participate in tourism development and to anticipate critical trends.

According to recent studies on Arctic and northern tourism, current development seems to hinge on increased accessibility and diversified products.

Professor Arvid Viken of Finnmark University College, Norway, notes, "The perception of the Arctic is changing, from something inaccessible to a more common tourist destination. This certainly has to do with the fact that the Arctic is touristically produced; in most areas there are escorted tours to buy. Before, it could have been some sort of an expedition."

Professor Viken is director of the Tourist Destination Development project, a joint effort of nine Northern universities – including the University of Lapland and the Multidimensional Tourism Institute (MTI) – studying tourism work and employment, destination planning, and governance processes in various Northern tourist destinations.

"Another trend shows that tourism in the Arctic now covers a wide range of products from popular tourism products like skiing and hiking to all sorts of niche products. A further trend is probably a real trend: a rather strong public and media focus on the North", he continues.

Dr Seija Tuulentie, a senior researcher at the Finnish Forest Research Institute, agrees with Professor Viken on the course of tourism development:

"From the Finnish point of view, the last ten years have meant that tourism has become more professional, international and diverse. There are many kinds of interests – from skiing tourists to silence seekers and from elderly bus tourists to younger extremists", she says, and estimates that in the future, the competition will become keener now that Sweden and Norway have become more interested in tourism.

"Russia, too, has started to develop tourist facilities, especially ski resorts", she points out.

Booming trends may be found in the focus on the cultural heritage and peculiarities of the daily life of people living in the Arctic.

"For example, in Finnish Lapland we are now witnessing how small villages are becoming interesting destinations by offering visitors a taste of their day-to-day life. This recent development is connected to such global trends as slow life, sustainability and well-being", notes Dr José-Carlos García-Rosell, a lecturer at the Multidimensional Tourism Institute.

"The trends are addressed in the tourism industry by using elements that have been viewed as trivial by local inhabitants. A good example is the village of Salla with its slogan 'in the middle of nowhere' and products such as a 'nothing is happening week'. Silence, the periphery, polar nights and everyday life are becoming essential ingredients for the development of attractive destinations", he observes.

It seems that small villages and residents in remote rural areas are starting to benefit from tourism.

"This keeps many villages inhabited. It may also prevent involuntary migration to big cities and help those young people – especially women – who want to return home to work after their studies", Dr Tuulentie points out.

The small villages in northern Norway have already benefited from the tremendous growth in winter tourism, particularly that related to the Hurtigruten cruises. According to Professor Viken, the principal reason for this was a shift in strategies from 2006 onwards that made winter into a season and developed new products, both on board and ashore. This development has been mainly industry and market driven.

It cannot be overly stressed how important it is to include different stakeholder views when developing tourism in the Arctic.

"A single organisation should not be responsible for developing tourism; instead, the development should be a co-creation process that involves a broad range of organisations and stakeholder groups", Dr García-Rosell emphasises. And this idea is seconded by Dr Tuulentie:

"Different actors – from locals to second-home owners and tourists – should be listened to, and the knowledge gained from them then used in planning. The situation as a whole of Northern societies should be taken into account in development strategies, too. Tourism is part of society – a fact that often seems to be forgotten."

Both scholars point out that research should be innovative and bring to light issues that are not self-evident in practical tourism work, and that such studies should also help decision makers to understand the importance of tourism to remote regions.

Dr Tuulentie goes on to note, "It is a researcher's task to attend to sustainability issues that are not easily measured and changed into the language of economics. This applies especially to ecological and social sustainability."

Professor Viken adds, "For example in Svalbard, a destination located in the Arctic Ocean, co-operation and partnership between the tourism industry, government and research has led to innovative, environmentally sound and sustainable tourism development."

Writer Outi Rantala is tourism researcher at the Multidimensional Tourism Institute / University of Lapland, Faculty of Social Sciences.

Illustrations: Markus Ylikoski

Slowing down in the Arctic
A common feature of the tourist destinations in Finnish Lapland – and the Arctic area in general – is their closeness to wilderness: the destinations are surrounded by nature and much of their attractiveness is based on images evoked by wilderness.

Wilderness provides an especially suitable environment for developing tourism related to such trends as slowing down and de-growth. For example, these trends shape the way tourists sleep and value sleep. The Arctic nature, with its dark winter night and bright Midnight Sun in summer, offers a good starting point to leave one's daily routines behind for a while and retool one's rhythm.

Currently almost no research data exist regarding the socio-cultural phenomenon of sleep.

Researchers at the University of Lapland have set out to fill this gap in a project titled "A New Sleep Order", led by Professor Anu Valtonen. The aim of the research group is to point out alternative ways of sleeping and resting in a culture which seems to be governed by economic and medical discourses.

Tourist destinations in Finnish Lapland operate according to a strong seasonal variation: the main tourist seasons are situated in wintertime, which includes the Christmas and skiing holidays. The summer forms a somewhat silent season. The autumn colours primarily attract Finnish tourists. This means that the "touristic year" has taken on a form opposite to the natural seasons of the local people, who tend to be more active and energetic in the summertime and to slow down for the dark wintertime.

According to Mr Pertti Aula, a teacher of industrial design, the objectives of Arctic design are based on the interaction of human beings and nature.

Could the untapped potential for tourism outside the big tourism destinations – with their bright artificial lights and loud Christmas music – be found by following the rhythms of nature and the possibilities offered by small villages to slow down?

Sleeping close to nature without cell phones and alarm clocks offers possibilities to follow a natural rhythm and to pay close attention to one's well-being. At the same time, the comparative scarcity of services prompts the social interaction which is often lacking in the bustle of everyday life.