Authenticity as a compromise: why labels can be very important

Text and photos: Cecilia de Bernardi


Since I started my work with Sámi tourism, initially I focused on analysing language, marketing, and specifically how culture is portrayed in pictures. The reason why I started with this is that marketing communication is an important aspect of the process of attracting tourists to a certain place. A website, a brochure or a picture on Instagram can affect the tourists’ expectations of a destination they want to visit.

If the tourists are presented with an exotic and historical version of Sámi culture(s), this is what they will most likely expect when they arrive at the destination. This can make it hard for Sámi tourism entrepreneurs to deliver experiences that are based on contemporary Sámi life, while also making sure that the tourists go home satisfied with their trip. This is one side of the coin, other aspects that I learned about while talking to entrepreneurs are the fact that tourists often do not know about the Sámi when they arrive and that they are eager to learn more and are most often respectful. My interviews with the entrepreneurs were the basis for the national baseline report on cultural sensitivity of Sweden for ARCTISEN and for my doctoral dissertation as well.

A view from the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi


Kiruna Church

Another aspect that became apparent during the interviews I conducted, is the different views from the Sámi entrepreneurs on what is regarded as authentic, while it was also clear for them what is not authentic. These findings and my studies of marketing communication are what has driven me to understand authenticity as a compromise. There are different and equally important views on authenticity, while, on the other hand, different views on authenticity have something in common. Due to the fact that there are so many ways in which Sámi culture(s) can be exploited in tourism, in order to protect Sámi culture(s) from unethical use in tourism, labels should be used to promote the aspects of Sámi culture(s) that are shared as well as the differences. An example of a label is the Sápmi Experience in Sweden, which hopefully can be an inspiration for other future labelling schemes. Nowadays with social media and other means of communication, it will be possible to spread information on such a label and gradually educate the tourists on more conscious choices. A label can help to support Sámi tourism enterprises, while also while also protecting the environment. This is another important part of being a Sámi tourism entrepreneur, which is to protect the nature that is so intertwined with culture. A tourism label can also support such efforts and communicate them to the tourists.

Finally, during my research and the interviews, I learned of the importance of Sámi culture(s) for tourism entrepreneurs operating at the local level in northern Sweden, but who are not Sámi. All of the people I interviewed highlighted how important it is for them to not disturb the reindeer, to cooperate with Sámi companies to convey Sámi culture(s) and to make sure that Sámi-related tourism products are in the hands of Sámi entrepreneurs. This is important regarding how a label could help the operations of other companies working closely with Sámi tourism.

In conclusion, a label based on authenticity as a compromise is a way to:

  • Highlight commonalities as well as differences within Sámi culture(s)
  • Protect Sámi culture(s) from unethical use in tourism
  • Potentially protect the surrounding environment
  • Promote education and information to the tourists
  • Support other local companies that cooperate and respect Sámi culture


Cecilia de Bernardi

PhD candidate at the University of Lapland (FI) and Dalarna University (SE). Her doctoral defense will take place on August 28 at the University of Lapland.

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