Perspectives on Sustainable Tourism – Local Communities and the Outdoor Etiquette

This blog text is a summary of four inspiring case-presentations heard as a part of a small group discussion in the GRUDE Grennovation Camp in May.

Outdoor Etiquette and Responsible Hiking

Pirjo Rautiainen,
Metsähallitus, Finland

Metsähallitus is a state-owned enterprise that produces environmental services for a diverse customer base; ranging from private individuals to major companies. Finland, as well as Sweden, has “everyman’s rights” or “freedom to roam” which makes it easy for people to enjoy nature. Everyman’s rights have been integrated in the Finnish, as well as, Swedish and Norwegian cultures for decades, but nowadays the nature areas are meeting a new public who are not necessarily familiar with how to behave in nature. In addition, everyman’s rights do not apply everywhere and as Pirjo pointed out, it is hard to know exactly what rules apply to a certain area. The problems of littering, fire-making and stone-piling have become more and more frequent.

Therefore, Metsähallitus has created a “Code of Conduct” for those who visit nature areas in Finland. The purpose has been to make it as simple and concise as possible. The general guidelines are:

  1. Respect nature (ground rule for all outdoor activities)
  2. Use marked trails
  3. Camp only where it is allowed
  4. Light your campfire only where it is allowed
  5. Do not litter

Real Life Encounters as a Way to Enhance Cultural Sustainability

Anna Kuhmunen,
entrepreneur at Silba Siida (Jokkmokk, Sweden)

Anna Kuhmunen is a Sami woman who moved South to Jokkmokk, from Kiruna area. She comes from a reindeer herding family and is married to a reindeer herder. This is why it was a natural choice for her own family to continue the tradition. Anna worked in television for many years but when her children grew older she wanted to show them that it is possible to make a living of the traditional Sami lifestyle.

Anna Kuhmunen works full time as a reindeer herder.

Anna and her family started to welcome visitors to their home and everyday life.  She points out that their goal is not to be like a zoo or an animal park, but to show people the real life with reindeer. To Anna, it is important that the visitors get to see the reality, not a fake setup. Due to climate change, the reindeer can be very sick and worn down when they come home after roaming in the wild. That gives Anna a reason to speak to her visitors about how the climate change is affecting the reindeer herders and their livestock.

Nowadays, Anna and her family get visitors from all over the world and she hopes that more people would dare to show their everyday life for visitors. “No matter how dull you think your life is, there is always someone who finds it exciting and exotic!” As an example, she takes up her friend Sofia who goes ice bathing on a regular basis. Sofia doesn’t see it as something out of the ordinary but many other people do, and Anna says, she is sure that people would like to come along if they got the chance!

Community Engagement 

Ann Eileen Lennert,
Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO)

Ann opened her presentation by stressing the importance of local ownership and community perspective in tourism strategies. “Community engagement is a key, as well as, establishing good frames for long term cooperation and dialogue. It is important to plan when we want to have guests – and when we don’t”.

Similarly in national parks, the importance of guidelines for visitors cannot be emphasized enough. Creating the guidelines requires a clear local perspective on what we want visitors to experience and how they are expected to behave during their visit. In addition, tourism management strategies should take into account community perspectives and ownership. As Taleb Rifai, the former Secretary General of the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization has said: “There is no future for travel and tourism if you are not welcome and embraced by the local community”. From the locals’ point of view, however, there are many factors to consider. For instance, it is not obvious that the residents want to have marked trails in their living area as that might cause disturbance and crowding.

How Tour Companies Are Inspiring Tourists to Do Right?

Anna Martinez,
West Sweden Tourist Board

Because of her Spanish-Swedish background, Anna has observed the consequences of tourism in Sweden from a wide perspective. She has been working in tourism industry for many years and in many different countries. According to Anna, there was not many countries speaking about sustainable tourism 20 years ago. Costa Rica and Australia where among the early countries to raise the question. Today, however, you can even study sustainable tourism on university level.

Many years ago, Spain was facing the same challenges that Sweden is facing today with an increased number of visitors. Anna pointed out that tourist guides have a great responsibility – the guests will believe almost everything a guide tells them, and thus, they have a great power to influence. As a tour company there are many ways to nudge and reward the guests. One good example is to offer bonuses for tourists who arrive by train. Zero waste travel is another challenge, but there are success stories about that as well.

A bigger question that has no easy answer, concerns long-haul travelling. For example, if a nature tourism company in Sweden receives visitors from Dubai, how can their stay in the destination be arranged sustainably and is it even possible to compensate the long journey? Moreover, the terms we use when talking about ethical guidelines and responsible travel may need to be reassessed if have visitors from different cultures. For example, the instruction about leaving no trace in nature can be too ambiguous and needs to be clarified. Therefore, the companies have a great possibility to communicate with their international guests and influence the way they behave during their stay.

The discussion in the group ranged from the future of reindeer herding to the major increase a social media influencers’ visit can make on a popularity of a destination.

Blog text by:
Amanda Mannervik, Strukturum Jokkmokk,
Seija Tuulentie, Natural Resources Institute Finland