Some notes on Sami tourism in Sweden

Dieter K. Müller

For a long time tourism in northern Sweden has centered around outdoor experiences and wilderness, at least when looking at travel brochures and other promotional materials. However, already early travelers in the North reported about their encounters with local population and not least the Sami, too. The Sami were portrayed in exotic terms and provided guiding and transportation.

In a Sami kåta in Ammarnäs (Photo: Dieter K. Müller)

Of course, a lot has changed since these early days, but still today, Sami and reindeer herding are important ingredients in the touristic supplies of the Swedish North. As many destination representatives confirm, the supply of Sami tourism products does not correspond to a much larger demand. This is despite various initiatives by Sámiid Riikkasearvi, the Swedish Reindeer Herders’ Union SSR, and the Swedish Sami parliament aiming at profiling tourism as a Sami industry. For example, about 10 years ago SSR launched Visit Sapmi, an indigenous destination management organization, in order to strengthen Sami tourism. In this context, the organization developed a quality label signifying high-quality Sami tourism products but also pointing out original Sami experiences for the benefit of tourists. Economically the initiative turned out to be not viable when financial support from regional policy funds discontinued. Hence, the number of Sami tourism companies in Sweden has stagnated for many years and the expected take-off never took place. However, even today there are hopes that tourism can become an important Sami enterprise, as for example a new OECD-report indicates. An increasing international touristic interest in northern Sweden creates preconditions for this, but brings along also risks for conflict and cultural misunderstanding when growing amounts of poorly prepared tourists meet a reindeer herding culture contested by climate change and land use competition.

How Sami tourism has developed and how tourism fits into Sami livelihood strategies have been important topics of tourism research at the Department of Geography, Umeå University, for the last 20 years. The ARCTISEN project provides a welcomed opportunity to develop this research further and continue a comparative approach on tourism and indigeneity in the Arctic. Hence, we see forward to this project and the opportunity to learn together about how to develop Arctic tourism with respect for its environment and people.

 

Sources

Leu, T.C. (2018). Tourism Work among Sámi Indigenous People: Exploring its Prevalence and Role in Sparsely Populated Areas of Sweden. PhD-thesis. Umeå: Department of Geography and Economic History.

OECD (2019), Linking the Indigenous Sami People with Regional Development in Sweden, OECD Rural Policy Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris. https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264310544-en

Viken, A. & Müller, D.K. (Eds.) (2017). Tourism and Indigeneity in the Arctic. Bristol: Channel View.

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