Paths to cultural sensitivity in tourism business

by Monika Lüthje

Cultural sensitivity is a new concept in tourism research and development. When ARCTISEN project started, we had a quite vague idea of what it means in both theory and practice. Now, as the project has been going on for almost three years, our understanding of it has increased a lot. We see that the idea of culturally sensitive tourism boils down to respect, recognition and reciprocity among tourism actors. To support tourism entrepreneurs in developing their businesses in a culturally sensitive way, we have created a roadmap for culturally sensitive tourism business.

The roadmap is based on videos we have made for the ARCTISEN online course on Cultural Sensitivity in Arctic Tourism. In the videos, tourism and cultural sector entrepreneurs and destination managers operating in Finnish and Swedish Lapland, Northern Norway and Greenland share their experiences and advises of doing tourism in culturally sensitive ways. Interestingly, although these entrepreneurs and managers are operating with different kinds of tourism services in different places, their ideas about culturally sensitive tourism practices seem very similar. This was the starting point for our roadmap which we ended up calling Paths to Cultural Sensitivity (link to the online course).

The map consists of two interrelated practices – the practice of cooperation and the practice of being real. In the map, they are depicted as two mountains linked to each other by a bridge to tell that you need some effort and time to reach their tops and they are connected to each other. As you can see in the map, you can choose alternative paths to reach the mountains – there are several ways to do tourism business in a culturally sensitive way. (And those in the map are only some of them.)

The central idea of the practice of cooperation is to plan the business activities together with the local people whose lives the tourism activities affect. The aim is to plan the activities so that they do not disturb the locals’ lives. In other words, the business is planned so that it fits the life of the local community. Another important aspect in the practice of cooperation is to plan the business so that it benefits as many locals as possible and corresponds their needs.

The practice of being real means that the entrepreneur and her or his employees do not fake or pretend to be something that they are not. They do not need to be traditional or stereotypical representatives of the local culture if that is not what they really are. It is enough to tell about one’s own life in the local place. Nothing more exotic is needed. The practice of being real includes also telling correct information of the place, of its history, culture and people. That may mean some reading and studying and – if the entrepreneur or the employees are not locals themselves – respectful cooperation with the locals. The best practice is that those tell tourists about a culture whose culture it is.

Importantly, the same practices came up also during the online benchmarking trips we did this spring to Norway, Finland, Sweden and Canada. That means that these practices are used more widely in the Arctic than only by the entrepreneurs and managers featuring in the online course videos.

For more tips, check out the map as well as our online course and benchmark take-aways!

Greetings from the Canadian ARCTISEN Webinar!

Text by: Chris E. Hurst

One of the key activities in the ARCTISEN project, are benchmarking events to bring together different tourism stakeholders, community representatives, entrepreneurs, scholars, students, and government representatives across the Arctic region. The first benchmarking trip took place -person in Greenland in December 2019. The challenges of COVID-19 shifted the rest of the benchmarks to an online format, with the first online benchmarking trip taking place in Norway at the end of April. This was followed by a benchmarking virtual bus tour through Finnish Lapland on May 18, and a visit to tourism businesses in Sweden on June 3.

One June 9, 2021, Canada hosted the Canadian benchmarking webinar, with the theme Experiences of Culturally Sensitive Tourism in the Canadian Arctic.

 

We were joined by tourism stakeholders in 7 countries!

 

Orienting hearts and minds

 

Sharing experiences of cultural sensitivity in tourism

 

→ Visit the Department’s webpage.

 

→ Visit Long Ago People´s Place webpage.

 

→ Visit Tundra North Tours webpage.

→ See the video from Kylik that was showed on webinar

 

 

Indigenous ecotourism futures in Canada

 

 

 

Key Messages and Takeaways

Online benchmark trip to Sweden – On the way to a cross-border tourism label

Text: Håkan Appelblad, Kjell-Åke Arensson & Randy Bruin

Videos: Visit Umeå, Swedish Lapland & Thomas Åberg

One of the main activities in the ARCTISEN project, are the benchmarking events that bring together different kinds of tourism actors across the Arctic. The first benchmarking trip took place in Greenland in December 2019 and at the end of April we joined the first online benchmarking trip, which presented tourism companies in Norway. The next month we continued our benchmarking journey in Finnish Lapland. On the 3rd of June, it was time for an online trip to Sweden. We welcome you to enjoy the shared stories, thoughts and (future) ideas we brought home with us from this digital journey.

In his words of welcome, Håkan Appelblad, researcher at the Department of Geography at the Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden, introduced the benchmark participants to Arctic Sweden. The theme of the afternoon ”Sharing knowledge as part of an innovative business-model to deal with culturally sensitive issues”. As a true geographer, Håkan presented the important tourism destinations via Google Earth, where amongst the three companies that presented their business-models during the webinar.

Image: Snapshot of Håkan Appelblad during the benchmark

Another (literally) warm welcome followed from Kjell-Åke Arensson , researcher at Ájtte museum – mountain and Sámi museum in Jokkmokk, Sweden, from a tropical and sunny Jokkmokk (28 degrees). After, Dieter Müller, professor in Human Geography at the Umeå University, was invited and described tourism development in Sweden through the years. He pointed out the so-called “Artification” of tourism and emphasized on the importance of reflection with different stakeholders about what has changed and how to move on. On to the three tourism companies based in Arctic Sweden.

 

The importance of living sustainably

Granö Beckasin

After a video of the tourism company, Granö Beckasin, Annika Rydman explained how the business came to life based on the premises of Pay respect & Eco Premium, where respect refers to respecting nature, animals and local people and Eco Premium is actually translated as sustainability. Furthermore, Annika described that when you decide to go Eco Premium: you need to live it in everything. And so they do: through inviting both tourists ánd local people on excursions. Also, they believe in presenting “real” stories, and so they invite Sámi people to explain their culture. Their persistence in building sustainably has paid off: Granö Beckasin owns an eco-hotel, tree-houses, birds’ nests and cabins and most of the houses are built with recyclable materials.

Annika ends with “Why has it always been important to us to be sustainable and include local people? Because, you learn from time to time that nature gives and takes, and we have to be fair: you cannot take more than you give.” Therefore, Granö Beckasin loves to be sustainable.

Image: Snapshot of Annika Rydman during the benchmark

Geunja The Sámi Ecolodge

Through a sphere full video, the participants got a taste of Geunja The Sámi Ecolodge. Ann-Kristine Vinka, owner of the tourism company together with Mikael Vinka, further explained the mindset of Geunja that is all about nature and culture conservation. In leaving a legacy for the future, Ann-Kristine and Mikael hope to enrich and embrace their guests with the warmth of their family and Sámi culture. During their stay, guests are part of daily life and help chopping wood, getting water, making food, moreover they are part of the family. The company is awarded with the WWF Arctic Award, Grand Travel Award and certified with the Nature’s Best label (Eco tourism certification) which means they practice small-scale tourism: 12 groups a year, 12 guests each time.

Ann-Kristine ends with welcoming the participants to share their lifestyle.

Image: Snapshot of Ann-Kristine Vinka during the benchmark

Peace & Quiet Hotel – Njannja Adventure

Björn Hedlund-Länta’s tourism company is introduced in a peaceful video, showing a calm and quiet floating igloo hotel. Björn starts with explaining that Jokkmokk is known as a Sámi destination with institutions such as the Ájtte museum. Björn used to be a military mountain guide in the Swedish army and taught others how to operate and work in similar climates, which for many soldiers “tough guys” appeared to be a very intense experience. Björn thought of what to do with his knowledge and decided to start a tourism company, which he recently re-named to “Peace & quiet hotel”. He believes that the hotel can offer guests a feeling of tranquillity and combines it with local experiences nearby, such as reindeer experiences, and local food tastings.

Image: Snapshot of Björn Hedlund-Länta during the benchmark

 

Thoughts and future ideas – How to move on?

During an interesting discussion in the digital common room, the following inspiring thoughts and ideas were shared. As illustrated with the examples below, participants offered various advocacies for a cross-border tourism label.

 

 

Virtual benchmarking trip in Finnish Lapland

Text: Suvi Autio, Elisa Hartikainen, Emily Höckert & Monika Lüthje 

Videos: Mauri Lähdesmäki , Fount Films

One of the main activities in the ARCTISEN project, are the benchmarking events that bring together different kinds of tourism actors across the Arctic. The first benchmarking trip took place in Greenland in December 2019 and at the end of April we joined the first online benchmarking trip, which presented tourism companies in Norway. 18 May it was time for benchmarking journey in the Finnish Lapland. In the following, we welcome you to enjoy the atmosphere and new ideas from our online bus-trip. After describing our journey, we will share some of the most inspiring takeaways and souvenirs.   

 

Tour guide: Suvi Autio 

Hello everyone and welcome to our Arctisen Finnish online benchmark trip. Glad to see so many of you here!  As many of you know, originally we were supposed to have physical  benchmarking trips, but then corona complicate the plans and instead we have created these online benchmarking events.

Let’s go quickly through the travel itinerary of our trip. Here you can see the timetable. We will start by gathering in groups so you can get to know some of your travelling companions. We will then head towards Hetta, where we are welcomed by Tiina at Hotel  Hetan  Majatalo.

The program included visits in five different companies in Enontekiö, Inari and Utsjoki and discussions in three break-out sessions.

 

First stop: Hotel Hetan Majatalo

Virtual benchmarking trip in Hotel Hetan Majatalo

More information about family Hotel in Hetta, Finland

 

Second stop: Näkkälä Adventures

Virtual benchmarking trip with Näkkälä Adventures

More information about Näkkälä Adventures in Enontekiö, Finland

 

Third stop: SoundByNature

Virtual benchmarking experience with Sanni Orasmaa

More information about SoundByNature

 

Short visits along the way

 

Fourth stop: Sámi Duodji

Welcome to visit Sámi Duodji Shop and handicraft workshop in Sajos, Inari 

More information about Sámi Duodji association in Finland

 

Fifth stop: Holiday Village Valle

Virtual benchmarking visit in Holiday Village Valle, in Utsjoki

More information about Holiday Village Valle 

 

Tour Guide: Suvi Autio

We are now approaching Rovaniemi. I hope you enjoyed this benchmarking trip with us.

Remember that the benchmarking trip in Sweden will be organised 3 June 2021.

From behalf of Arctisen I wish you all a pleasant rest of the day. Please make sure that you don´t forget any of your belongings in the buss.

Some happy bus travelers caught in a group photo.

 

 

Greetings from virtual benchmark visit in Norway

Text: Randy Bruin, Emily Höckert & Camilla Brattland

Videos: Trond Anton Andersen

One of the main activities in the ARCTISEN project, are the benchmarking events that bring together different kinds of tourism actors across the Arctic. The first benchmarking trip took place in Greenland (read more here and here) in December 2019. This trip was a success in many ways and lead to new inspiration and practical ideas for developing culturally sensitive tourism products.

While the ARCTISEN-team was in the middle of planning the forthcoming trips to Canada, Finland, Norway and Sweden the pandemic forced us to change our plans. Instead of encountering local tourism companies in situ, it became timely to envision virtual ways of visiting each other. As a result, the online benchmarking events are now taking place between April and June, 2021. Just like after the benchmarking trip in Greenland, we want to share ideas, inspiration and other souvenirs from these new gatherings as well.

Cultures and entrepreneurs on the move

The online benchmark series started April 26, broadcasted from Northern Norway with the theme: Representing culture: Moving away from stereotypes. This digital study trip was attended by nearly 40 participants from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Sweden and Norway.

The event brought together participants in Johtit and ARCTISEN projects. In her words of welcome, Hilde Bjørkli, director of the regional destination management organization in northern Norway, Nordnorsk Reiseliv (NNR), provided a summary of the Johtit project.

The Northern Sámi word, johttit, means travelling, moving, or on the move. The symbolic meaning in a tourism specific context implies that both tourism and tourism entrepreneurs are dynamic. Hilde described that Sámi tourism in the North is characterised by change. While tourists were before mainly passive observers, today the guests are invited to engage in interactive forms of learning. This means that tourism entrepreneurs have become active disseminators of culture and nature. The Johtit project is a network of 16 Sámi-owned businesses, which all have their own ways of using the rich and multi-faceted Sámi culture in tourism products and services.

The floor was then given to Arvid Viken, emeritus professor at the Department of Tourism and Northern Studies, the Arctic University of Norway (UiT). His talk reminded of the lamentable legacy of stereotyping, appropriation and assimilation in Indigenous tourism in the Arctic. Arvid discussed how the ARCTISEN project has been searching for a culturally sensitive orientation toward others and otherness; that is, an orientation based on recognition, respect and reciprocity. What is more, the notion of cultural sensitivity can help us to move away from stereotypes, by focusing on the dynamic nature of cultures.

Gathering by Min Ája

The next stop in our benchmarking trip was a Sámi basecamp Min Ája in Finnmark, Northern Norway, ran by Silje Halonen and Ronny Antonsen. They welcomed us all to visit their company through this video.

Image: Benchmarkers were virtually invited to Karasjok-camping with Randy Bruin and Silje Halonen

In a follow up conversation with Silje Halonen, she explained that the business had been running for 10 years, without being promoted as a Sámi business. In her words, she had earlier not felt ‘Sámi enough’ as she is not used to joik or to have reindeer. Nevertheless, being partner of Johtit network had been an eye-opener considering the ways in which she values her own Sámi identity. Her personal journey – accompanied by the other companies in and outside Norway – helped Silje to understand how Indigenous cultures can be used in tourism in various ways. As a result, Karasjok Camping was recently re-named as Min Ája; that is, with a Sámi name that translates as Our Source. Silje described how she today feels confident to talk about her culture and to offer tourism products and services with their own Sámi profile.

From the campsite, we moved on to the first break-out session. This gave us a chance to discuss valuable tourism experiences and our understanding of cultural sensitivity in smaller groups. We were all positively surprised how smoothly the smaller gatherings could be organised virtually. Moreover, these talks sparked interest to continue the discussions with the people we had met in our groups. The takeaways and souvenirs from these group discussions are presented at the end of this article.

Invitation to Inga Sámi Siida 

The next video welcomed us to visit Inga Sámi Siida, a company located on Hinnøya island, Vesterålen, where Laila Inga’s family has lived for over 100 years.

Image: A snapshot of a laughing Laila Inga taken from the video

After watching a video about Inga Sámi Siida, Hilde invited Laila Inga for a conversation. Besides being a reindeer herder family, Inga Sámi Siida started in 2009 as tourism company. After multiple requests of people close by who wanted to ‘take a look’ at their place where the Inga family helped reindeers to survive during winter hardship, Laila felt the urge to share this experience with others as well. In the first years, the Inga family tried out different seasons and set-ups to sell their experiences. Laila’s brilliant skills as a storyteller, which Hilde also mentioned, are valuable when Laila shares her knowledge about reindeer and the lessons, we can learn from them. Today also other Sámi families reach out to Laila for advice on Sámi food preparation, how to prepare the reindeer skin and other cultural aspects.

Towards more colorful and nuanced images of the Arctic

Towards the end of the benchmarking trip, Camilla Brattland from UiT hosted the second break-out-sessions, which revealed some new, important aspects of stereotypes within tourism.

These discussions drew attention to the dynamic nature of indigenous arts. For instance, Kristoffer Dolmen from Sámi Dáiddaguovddáš – Sámi Centre of Contemporary Art, pointed out how guests might have strong pre-assumptions and expectations what Sámi art is supposed to be like – read: something traditional or historical. However, in Kristoffer’s view, Sámi art is simply something that is made and designed by a Sámi artist. While Sami centres or museums often display more stereotypical, traditional cultural elements, contemporary Sami museums create new spaces for modern art. In a similar vein, Nini Brandt from Greenland Outdoors argued that the Greenlandic art is in constant change. While some might think that a certain object ‘is not Greenlandic art’, it is a piece of mind from Greenlandic person who made it, and hence also Greenland’. Through art expositions and different ways of storytelling, guests can reflect their expectations and learn about the ongoing cultural change.

“We can make a more colorful picture of people and nature”

Nini Brandt, Greenland Outdoors

 

 

More presentations of Northern Norwegian tourism companies:

 

 

Who needs guidelines for culturally sensitive tourism?

Text: Monika Lüthje

In our previous blog post Kjell Olsen and Outi Kugapi discussed about guidelines and roadmaps for culturally sensitive tourism. They pointed out that local entrepreneurs are not waiting or hoping for new guidelines to run their tourism businesses in a culturally sensitive way. This approach is understandable: being part of the local context, these entrepreneurs know how to take the local cultures into account in a respectful manner in their products and services. They know, for example, how the local people use the nature and can plan their nature-based tourism activities without disturbing other activities, be it berry picking, hunting, reindeer herding, or anything else.

Instead of creating new guidelines, our project team dived into the sea of existing guidelines in the Arctic.

Map of existing tourism guidelines in the Arctic. Click the image to visit the Prezi-presentation of the guidelines – created by Suvi Autio.

We created a Map of Guidelines which shows how many organisations and local communities have been previously creating different kinds of guidelines for tourism. Why is that? For whom they are? If the locals do not seem to need these kinds of instructions and recommendations, an obvious answer is that the guidelines are for non-locals.

First, different kinds of seasonal tourism actors need guidance in order to be able to navigate in the local cultures in a respectful manner. In our baseline research in winter/spring 2019 – one year before the outbreak of COVID-19 – we found out that a growing number of outsiders had entered the tourism scene in the Arctic: foreign tourism companies were operating in the area and even local companies had to employ non-local guides and other non-local staff because there was not enough local work force. We also learned that many times these outsiders were the ones causing problems because they did not know about the local cultures – and maybe even did not care to learn. It is quite probable that once the pandemic is over and the number of guests will increase, the situation will be somewhat the same. Hence, guidelines can play an important role as they teach the newcomers what kind of tourism the local people want to have in their home areas and what kind of behavior is considered appropriate and inappropriate, and in that way diminish disturbance of the local cultures.

How to help visitors to make responsible choices? Photo credit: Emily Höckert

Second, tourists form another important group of outsiders who need guidance in how to behave in a respectful manner in tourism destinations. Based on our baseline research, their behavior can disturb and irritate local people in many ways and many times, probably, because of lack of knowledge and recognition of local cultures. Guidelines are an excellent way to communicate local wishes to the respectful, open minded visitors.

In our Map of Guidelines most guidelines are promoting sustainable, ethical or responsible tourism, not specifically culturally sensitive tourism as the term cultural sensitivity is quite new in tourism development. Many of the guidelines include, however, guidelines for cultural sensitivity. As the terms sustainable, ethical, responsible and culturally sensitive are quite abstract, the guidelines show what the abstract terms mean in practice. We hope that our Map of Guidelines can help different actors to navigate among different kinds of existing guidelines, which can offer inspiration for anyone working with tourism, including local companies.

You can read and learn more about the topic from ARCTISEN’s free online course.

Photo credit: Taina Vuolteenaho, Näkkälä Adventures

On Tourism Guidelines and Roadmaps in the Arctic

Text: Kjell O. Olsen & Outi Kugapi

During the past year, different kinds of guidelines have been created to enhance sustainable and responsible tourism in the Arctic. ARCTISEN project has tracked down the existing guidelines, and gathered them to this map, designed by Suvi Autio.

Map of existing tourism guidelines in the Arctic. Click the image to visit the Prezi-presentation of the guidelines – created by Suvi Autio.

One of the originally planned activities in ARCTISEN project was co-create specific guidelines for culturally sensitive tourism. Common guidelines created by tourism start-ups, SMEs and other project participants were hoped to raise awareness and respect towards cultural diversity in the Arctic tourism context among tourism actors. During the preparatory phase of the ARCTISEN project, guidelines were seen as a tool that could improve business environments for the start-ups and SMEs and enhance mutual understanding and cooperation between them and larger companies in the project area.

Nevertheless, when the ARCTISEN team started to conduct interviews among different kinds of tourism actors in the Arctic in 2019, the initial plan of guidelines needed to be revisited. (You can read more about the base-line reports here.) For instance, the interviews in Finland and Norway indicated that tourism companies were either not aware of existing guidelines, or did not see them highly relevant to their individual businesses. In Sweden, the companies rather emphasized the need for dialog, communication and public leadership, instead of guidelines. Also in Greenland, few of the small companies seemed to be eager to promote the idea of making new guidelines for cultural awareness.

Interesting differences

The interviews revealed interesting differences in people’s opinions toward guidelines. First of all, there is a difference between places with relatively many and those with relatively few tourists. When tourism is moderate, and entrepreneurs themselves are part of a local community, tourism actors appear to know how to handle cultural sensitivity. There seems to be no need for somebody to tell them how to act. Therefore, they are reluctant to develop guidelines for the sector. In contrast, in tourist hubs the idea of guidelines is more frequently discussed. Guidelines could make it easier to operate, in particular for those who are not part of Indigenous or local communities – such as national tourist companies.

Secondly, institutions and DMOs are more eager to propose guidelines based on the prospect of a growth in tourism. For them it seems to be a principle of being prepared for what potentially might come, while entrepreneurs themselves seems to have a shorter horizon on this issue. Finally, in Finland and Norway we found that the younger generations seem to be more positive towards guidelines then the older generation.

What does this tell us?

First of all, that the majority of companies interviewed in the Arctisen project are firmly embedded in their local communities, and therefore get their ‘guidelines’ for cultural sensitivity through their everyday interaction with local community. This kind of base of the local companies probably can make overarching guidelines to become a nuisance as the general guidelines never will fit with the more fine-grained moral knowledge of the local entrepreneurs themselves. This is not to say that local knowledge always will guarantee that tourism not will cause conflicts and will be conducted in a way that local communities find proper. Rather, it is to say that a local foundation for tourism companies makes them a part of the ongoing life in local communities, with its own conflicts but also with local traditions for solving them.

Last, but not least, our experience serves as a good example about the need to revisit and modify project plans along the way.

Paths to culturally sensitive tourism business

Based on the discoveries throughout the project lifetime and the difficulty of creating common guidelines, we decided to create a roadmap “Paths to culturally sensitive tourism business” which shows how tourism can be done in culturally sensitive way. Due to pandemic, the guidelines have been created based on the videos made for our online course and also based on the national reports produced during the project.

To see texts better, please click the picture and use zoom tool. The picture is also printable.

Roadmap illustaration: Emmanuel Tauch, Outi Kugapi, Monika Lüthje and Elisa Hartikainen

REINVENTING STORIES IN ARCTIC TOURISM DESTINATIONS: Cultural sensitivity in times of the pandemic

By Elsbeth Bembom & Randy Bruin

As explored in the previous blog post on Arctic tourism and the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism entrepreneurs and local DMOs have had to rethink their products and marketing strategies to adapt to a growing staycation market as a consequence of the pandemic. This blog post zooms in on issues of cultural sensitivity in this context of tourism during the pandemic. What stories about local culture and everyday life are told to the domestic visitors and how are local communities coping with this different form of tourism development?

During the summer of 2020, Greenland and the Nordic Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland saw an unprecedented growth of domestic tourists, as traveling internationally was hindered by global travel restrictions. This blog post looks at the implications of the pandemic on culturally sensitive tourism development in the Arctic. We specifically look at the dissemination of local and Indigenous culture to domestic tourists and the general consequences for local communities of the recent drastic changes in tourism. To explore these topics, we listen to the experiences of local tourism experts and entrepreneurs in Greenland, Norway, Sweden and Finland to learn about cultural sensitivity during a pandemic in the Arctic.

Panorama view from Skulsfjord, Kvaløya, Troms og Finnmark, Northern Norway – Photo by M. Blom

Telling other stories?

Whereas the main narrative in tourism marketing targeted at international tourists often revolves around stories that represent the Arctic as an ‘untouched wilderness’, the interviewed experts at local DMOs agreed that a different message was needed for the domestic market. Among international tourists, there is a growing interest in learning about local Arctic ways of living, but many of the domestic tourists want to experience ‘difference’ as well. As Jesper Schrøder, destination manager at Arctic Circle Business, explains: “It’s hard to sell Greenland to Greenlanders, because we sell who we are, and Greenlanders are already that”.

As a consequence, Anette Grønkjær Lings, chairman of Visit Greenland, noted that the staycation market in Greenland demonstrated no interest in stories related to local culture or history, as “digging much more into that […] would be very artificial”. For instance, stories about the national dress or myths around the northern lights became irrelevant. Instead, emphasizing local trademarks, such as national parks, ice caps, fjords and UNESCO sites, became one of the main stories which tourism entrepreneurs and DMOs used to communicate with the domestic market.

“It’s hard to sell Greenland to Greenlanders, because we sell who we are, and Greenlanders are already that” – Jesper Schrøder

Encountering new visitor dynamics

The stories told to domestic tourists were in some way also more detailed. According to Hilde Bjørkli, head of competence and development at Northern Norway Tourist Board, Norwegian tourists “don’t need this kind of surface stories. They need more, more deeper stories”, as they already know Norway. Despite this promising observation, the local experts were less positive when discussing the opportunities for Sámi tourism within the Scandinavian staycation market. Many believed it to be “awkward” or “odd” to visit a Sámi family as a fellow Norwegian, Swede or Finn.

Yet, interviewed Sámi entrepreneurs from Northern Norway told us different stories about their encounter with domestic guests. One of them described that she found it easier to connect with the Norwegian visitors, as they were able to make a deeper connection based on all the stories they had in common as fellow-Norwegians. As the owner elaborates, “they know lots of things about Sámi culture, they have read about it. So, in one way we can tell them the true story”. Another Sámi tourism entrepreneur pointed to how new, domestic audiences challenge usual stories of nature relations: “Norwegian people do not like me saying that we have another way to relate to nature. Because […] they have an identity that they are the outdoor [enthusiasts]”. These examples indicate that new host-guest encounters foster new conversations – not only about national and cultural identities, but also of how hosts and guests engage with and represent their relations with nature in different ways depending on the audience.

Gamme in Skardalen, Kåfjord, Troms og Finnmark, Northern Norway – Photo by R. Bruin

In Greenland, culture is usually not offered as a tourism experience in the same explicit way as in the Nordics as indicated in the above. Yet, other culturally sensitive issues arose when Greenlandic domestic tourists wished to experience a tour with a Greenlandic, rather than a foreign guide. As Salik Hard, senior project manager at Sermersooq Business, explains: “For local habitants, we don’t want to be guided by a foreigner that has been in our culture a few weeks”. As also previously uncovered in an ARCTISEN report, the tourism industry in Greenland depends on foreign workforce, often from Denmark. This issue became even more controversial as a result of the staycation trend and tour operators who were able to offer Greenlandic guides gained a major advantage.

When looking at the staycation boom through the lens of cultural sensitivity, a positive outcome is that it became clear that local stories are best shared by locals. At the same time, the demand for local representation touches upon a complex postcolonial history between Greenland and Denmark as well as upon general challenges of attracting domestic workers in labour-intensive seasonal industries such as tourism.

The pandemic as driver of change

The renewed focus on the staycation market has meant that local communities have become even more important. Despite the increasing flows of domestic tourists, businesses in and outside the tourism sector have still suffered. In other words, tourism development is not detached but highly connected to all layers in society, which became clear in our conversations with tourism actors in Finland, Greenland, northern Norway, and Sweden. Even though many differences exist between and within the countries, this is one thing that we can state for most Arctic tourism destinations. As argued by several tourism entrepreneurs, “the tourist industry is an important business. And if we leave, there will be a missing link in the society”. Salik Hard stressed that “the accommodation facilities, restaurants, the tour operators, stakeholders, cultural institutions, (..), are very dependent on the tourism. Absolutely”.

“The tourist industry is an important business. And if we leave, there will be a missing link in the society” – Arctic tourism entrepreneur

Prior to Covid-19, the tourism businesses contributed to local communities in terms of income generation, but also collaborations between businesses within similar and among different sectors. Among most Sámi entrepreneurs in northern Norway, thinking about the society and future generations is part of the business culture according to Solveig Ballo, CEO, and Antje Schlecht, project manager at the Sapmi Business Garden. Both emphasized that economic diversification, or the “several legs to stand on”, is a “society strength” that “actually saved the businesses” from bankruptcy.

In general, tourism entrepreneurs explained their attempt to through their business “show the people that they have to stop and breathe. We have to stop and think.” And how they “hope guests can connect themselves to nature, and (..) will find peace and rest a bit when they are at the camp”. These aims are reflected on their own way of living, as Jesper Schrøder argued: “tourist entrepreneurs are able to have a [satisfying] way of life (..), [by] being out in nature(..)”.

Recent developments have raised fears among tourism actors. Kristian Sievers, project manager at the Regional Council of Lapland, northern Finland, shared that businesses not directly related to the tourism industry are still very connected to tourism companies and when the latter run out of income, the companies providing services for the tourist industry will soon follow. A loss of local participation in his view will also entail the loss of contemporary cultural representation in Arctic tourism experiences. For the nearby future, a northern Norwegian entrepreneur foresaw that many businesses will be bankrupt, take on new jobs, and might not return to the tourism industry.

What will this entail for cultural sensitivity?

(Stay tuned for the article that will look more into tourism dynamics in times of the pandemic in both Greenland and northern Norway!)

Moving on

Our interviews show that despite the crisis situation, domestic tourism has provided an opportunity for tourism entrepreneurs to rethink and reinvent their stories. Also, domestic tourists have had a positive experience (re)discovering and learning about their own country in new ways. These tourism encounters offered new kinds of interactions and in some ways, a deeper connection was made. However, covid-19 hit the Arctic tourism industry hard, which led to bankruptcies, loss of jobs, and the closing of restaurants, shops and other facilities in and outside the tourism sector.

While the situation looks difficult for many communities that depend on international tourism, the staycation growth created an opportunity (although forced) to rethink the stories of the destination and of its cultures.

ARCTIC TOURISM IN A PANDEMIC: LOSSES, GAINS AND SURPRISING OUTCOMES

 

How has Covid19 affected Arctic tourism and what challenges, trends and innovations are on the rise among local tourism entrepreneurs? During the last few weeks, Elsbeth Bembom from ARCTISEN has been talking to tourism experts from Greenland, Norway, Sweden and Finland to explore Arctic’s current tourism landscape. Corona-proof, behind her desk.

 

While the concept of staycation in recent years has often been associated with strategies to reduce negative environmental impacts and flight shame, 2020 was the year where staycation became the new normal for tourists all around the world. While countries turned orange and red on the world map and lockdowns were enforced to stop the spread of the coronavirus, several positive stories also appeared in the news in the summer of 2020. Many destinations in Europe welcomed a record-high number of visitors, for instance in Denmark, where tourists could take the ferry for free to support island tourism. Despite some of these successful staycation hotspots, the overall industry is suffering, with UNWTO predicting a global drop of 70% in international arrivals in 2020.

But what has happened to tourism in the Arctic regions? Did the staycation trend boom in the North as well? As a destination, the Arctic is a highly diverse area with different cultures, tourism developments and products and, as a consequence, Covid-19 responses. It came therefore as no surprise that we heard many different and even contrasting stories from destination managers at local DMOs. As became clear from all the interviews with these tourism experts, some tourism businesses flourished this summer and welcomed more guests than ever before, while others were forced to shut down their business. So, what Arctic experiences attracted the exploded home market in 2020 and which did not cater for domestic staycation guests? Let’s explore the Arctic tourism landscape in times of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reindeer sleigh ride in Levi

A staycation boom

After the many cancellations in March, some destinations received a record high number of domestic tourists due to the global travel restrictions. While domestic tourism is not a new phenomenon to the Arctic regions, the staycation trend has not been observed before to this extent. As Salik Hard, senior project manager at Semersooq Business Council, stated: “I think it’s this summer, we actually had more guests than we had normally, because we did a lot of things on the staycation activities”. What most of the popular destinations had in common this summer, was their rural and remote character. As the chairman of a local tourist organization in Northern Sweden explained, the mountain areas received many guests since “we feel it is safe to go to the mountains” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

From a DMO perspective, several national and regional campaigns have been developed to attract domestic tourists and to support local tourism entrepreneurs, such as the Greenlandic Nunarput Nuan campaign, which aims to encourage people in Greenland to discover their own country. Similarly, the Destinasjon Sápmi campaign tries to inform Norwegians of the hidden Sámi gems in the North. These campaigns are specifically focused on domestic tourists, as, for instance, the websites are only available in local languages.

Basic or high-end experiences on the rise?

Companies that failed to benefit from the staycation boom included mostly expensive offerings that were mainly targeted at foreign tourists. For instance, many tour operators who organize activities such as zodiac tours, husky or reindeer visits and snowmobile safaris experienced a difficult summer. Kristian Sievers from the Regional council of Lapland believes that this development is caused because “the Finns come for the sort of more self catering holidays”, where they bring their own skies and bikes and prepare their own meals. To adapt to this Finnish market, Kristian observed that companies lowered their prizes. Similarly, in Jokkmokk, Northern Sweden, a great deal of the high-standard restaurants went bankrupt and in Greenland, Salik Hard saw extravagant glamping sites and big hotels struggling to run their businesses.

Quite remarkably, in Norway and to a lesser extent also Sweden, these exact luxurious accommodations and services were in explosive demand among domestic tourists. This resulted in dining at high-end restaurants to become the biggest trend among Norwegian visitors to Northern Norway over the summer. As Hilde Bjørkli, head of competence and development at the Northern Norway Tourism Board, described: “The [tour] boats were not used that much, but the kitchen was used a lot. And so, [the entrepreneurs] realize that Norwegians have to be treated in a different way.” While the Norwegian tour sector was at risk, some managed to save the season by offering food services instead. Similarly, some Sámi tourism businesses adapted their products to attract domestic tourists by, for instance, upgrading their accommodation to glamping lavvu’s, which is a traditional Sámi tent, and improving their food services with an outdoor BBQ and wine menus.

Cross-country skiing in Levi

Away from the popular destinations

Yet, many Indigenous tourism entrepreneurs in the Scandinavian Arctic suffered over the summer as they often host international guests arriving from cruise ships or boat tours. Correspondingly, tourism businesses in remote regions in Greenland, like Tasiilaq, which rely on cruise guests, have been dramatically hit, impacting the entire local community. However, some entrepreneurs were successful to invert this catastrophic situation by moving their tours to the tourism hotspot in Nuuk. According to Salik Hard, those who quickly managed to increase their capacity were able to profit from the Greenlandic staycation boom. As an example, the owner of a cruise company in Nuuk increased its capacity by offering short boat trips out of Nuuk to domestic tourists. Similar to Tasiilaq, local communities in Sisimiut also noticed the severe consequences of the absent cruise ships. As a response, tour operators took the opportunity to rethink their products, services and stories. Jesper Schrøder, destination manager at Arctic Circle Business, spoke with many tourism entrepreneurs in Sisimiut, who used the slow season to renovate cabins for longer stays and to come up with new ideas on how to use their sledge dogs in the summer season.

What’s next?

All developments considered, Arctic tourism in times of Covid-19 consists of a highly fragmented landscape where some services and destinations peaked through the sky, while in the valleys, some businesses found it hard to adapt. Despite some destinations experiencing growth, the level of tourism in the summer of 2020 has been much lower than previous years. Many local tourism entrepreneurs have been forced to downsize their business or fire employees to keep their head above water. Thankfully, some entrepreneurs have found strategies and innovations to transform their products, within just one season, to a whole new market. Since we are still in the middle of the crisis, the development sketched out in this blog triggers many new questions. Which innovations are there to stay when international visitors can be welcomed again? Can the experience with domestic markets offer clues towards the future development for a more sustainable Arctic tourism, as more people might increasingly consider a staycation? And, very relevant to ARCTISEN, what are the consequences of more domestic guests for the development of culturally sensitive tourism? Stay tuned for a new blog on domestic tourism and cultural sensitivity!

ARCTISEN INVITES YOU TO A TEASER OF THE ONLINE COURSE!

After learning from and traveling together with tourism entrepreneurs and organizations across the Arctic, there was the big task ahead of the ARCTISEN-team to analyse and explore the massive amount of valuable data. Now, during this unusual winter of 2020, we are happy to announce that the launch of the free online course is almost here! Starting today, we invite you to join the teaser of the online course on ARCTISEN’s Facebook and Instagram pages. Are you ready?

The aim of the social media campaign is to inform tourism entrepreneurs, organizations, students and our followers about the upcoming course and to share some of the practical learnings for developing culturally sensitive tourism yourself! What is cultural sensitivity exactly, how do you work with it, and how does it benefit your culture and your business? We will give the answers! The full online course is free and will be released early next year. With our social media campaign, we hope to inspire and motivate you to participate in the online course and to improve your skills to work in your local cultural and business environment.

However, to capture all the rich and context-specific insights from the online course in a short teaser was easier said than done! Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming to work with all the data the team has gathered over several years in different countries. That is exactly why we wanted to go back to the core: What are the main learnings that are worth sharing? To find this out, we needed to adopt a bird’s-eye view, which was perfectly suitable for us as interns, since we are quite new to the team. The outcome? The “golden three”-rule: Present the three main takeaways per theme in a short and visual way, so our followers get curious to learn more in the online course!

 

Best wishes,

Emmanuel and Elsbeth

 

Emmanuel and Elsbeth are interns at ARCTISEN who have joined their forces! Emmanuel is from Germany and he is studying the master’s program Arctic Art and Design at the University of Lapland. He is a great contribution to the team, as he helps with creating catchy visuals for the online course. Elsbeth is from the Netherlands and is a master student of the Tourism program at Aalborg University in Copenhagen. She helps with finalizing the online course and tries to raise awareness for it on Arctisen’s social media channels.

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