Doctoral defence: Landscapes structure preserves closeness to nature as tourism resorts grow


Nature-based tourism is experiencing a boom as the wilderness in Northern Scandinavia attracts travellers from ever-farther away. Last year marked the seventh successive year of growth in Finnish Lapland. The demand for accommodation in the region is high during the peak seasons of winter, and resorts attempt to meet the need by building increasingly compact servicescapes. In her recently completed thesis, Marja Uusitalo, MSc (Agr. and For.), shows that tourists would like to experience closeness to nature even in the built-up environments of resort areas.

Ms Uusitalo points out that more compact building has both advantages and shortcomings: “With more compact construction, nature around resorts remains uniform and wilderness-like. Then again, resorts should not be too densely built, because the nearby nature has a significance for tourists. Very dense construction may detract from their experiences of nature, as it reduces the green areas between lots.”

The thesis examines closeness of nature in tourism resorts, drawing on ecological and perceptional data to investigate the quantity, quality and accessibility of nearby nature. Using a questionnaire and maps Ms Uusitalo assessed the landscape preferences and perceptions of both Finnish and foreign tourists with regard to how land was used at resorts. The survey made use of photographs showing the density of construction and closeness to nature. Tourists drew maps from memory reflecting the landscape elements which had attracted their attention after engaging in activities in the areas. The quality of the environment was also assessed by examining the ecological carrying capacity of ecosystems when resorts expand, with analyses of landscape structure providing the tool for this purpose. The data for the research were collected at the Levi and Yllästunturi resorts, which were selected as representing the features of the development and growth likely to occur among Nordic tourism resorts.

Ms Uusitalo notes that the assessments of landscape structure showed that land use in the resorts has been quite ecologically sustainable and has thus provided tourists with opportunities for various kinds of front-country nature experiences. The ecological analyses conducted as part of the research indicate that when infrastructure is built ever higher up on the slopes of fells and hills, crucial connections between ecosystems are severed, as the capacity of natural areas to withstand and adjust to changes decreases. Denser construction in built-up areas impinges on the possibilities of wilderness and fell-oriented species to live in and move across the areas, which narrows the variety of nature experiences available to tourists.

The study shows that closeness of nature increases the attractiveness of a resort: the more buildings there were in a photograph, the less favourably the respondents reacted to the image. Nevertheless, buildings and other infrastructure dominated the mental maps that they drew. The upshot here is that ever-denser construction and a decrease in natural elements may result in tourists feeling that nature is not readily accessible.

Ms Uusitalo goes on to conclude that “the results of the study encourage the development of readily accessible trails and suggest that attention should be paid to green infrastructure at tourism resorts. A resort should take special care of sensitive felltops and higher-elevation slopes and prevent excessively dense construction. This would enable the nearby nature to thrive and retain its visual diversity as well as biodiversity.

The eco-efficiency of land use is an important consideration in the sustainable planning of urban communities. The results of Ms Uusitalo’s research make it easier to assess the applicability of this principle to land use in tourist resorts and urge a close examination of growth strategies, particularly in resorts geared to year-round tourism. The quantity and quality of nature in and around a resort tells today’s increasingly environment-conscious tourists whether the needs of nature and visitors have been taken into consideration. For families with children, elderly travellers and first-time visitors, nature experiences may well be limited to those available in the front country.

The thesis shows that tourism resorts require landscape planning to guide their land use and that such planning should draw on perceiver-based data.

Information on the defence

Marja Uusitalo will defend her doctoral thesis titled How to Maintain Naturalness in Nature-based Tourism Resorts? Approaches to Assessments of Landscape Quality for Tourism Planning in the Faculty of Social Sciences on Friday, 2 June, at 12 noon in the Esko and Asko Auditorium. The Opponent will be Professor Jarkko Saarinen of the University of Oulu, and the Custos Associate Professor Outi Rantala of the University of Lapland. Coffee will be served following the defence in the restaurant Petronella.

Information on the doctoral candidate

Marja Uusitalo (born in 1965) graduated with a master’s degree from the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry at the University of Helsinki in 1996. Complementing her studies for a major in horticulture was a minor in landscape architecture. Since graduating she has studied project and leadership skills and worked for the most part in research and development projects focusing on landscape planning, horticulture and the natural products industry. In addition to these duties, she has served as a senior manager at MTT Agrifood Research Finland in Rovaniemi. At present Ms Uusitalo is a research scientist at Natural Resources Institute Finland in Rovaniemi.

For additional information, please contact

Marja Uusitalo
Additional information and press copies: Lapland University Press, tel. 040 821 4242; email julkaisu (at) ulapland.fi

Information on the publication

Marja Uusitalo: How to Maintain Naturalness in Nature-based Tourism Resorts? Approaches to Assessments of Landscape Quality for Tourism Planning. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 351. University of Lapland Printing Centre. Rovaniemi. ISBN 978-952-337-001-2. ISSN 0788-7604.

Online version (PDF). Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 318. ISBN 978-952-337-002-9. ISSN 1796-6310.