New research course on culturally sensitive tourism

Text: Emily Höckert

During the Arctic Spring 2021, ARCTISEN team launched the first online course, CULTURAL SENSITIVITY IN ARCTIC TOURISM. This self-study online course, welcomes everyone to learn more about cultural sensitivity in tourism development. While the course was designed especially for tourism entrepreneurs and tourism workers, it serves as good guidance for tourism developers, DMOs, guides, students and policy-makers. That is, for everyone interested in the topic. Many people have already completed the course and have found it both inspirational and helpful.

I’d love to tell you that I absolutely loved the course you’ve carefully crafted! The information was well organised, in a way that it motivated me to study, and on my own pace! The extra material were very helpful to understand more the topic and the videos were very interesting to listen to. It was inspiring!
                                                                                                    Participant in the course ’Cultural Sensitivity in Arctic Tourism’

Now the COURSE 1 has been accompanied with a research course — with COURSE 2.  The course is designed to help you to enhance your theoretical and conceptual understanding of cultural sensitivity. The course includes articles, reports, inspirational videos, videos and self-reflexive exercises that welcome you to the current discussions on cultural sensitivity in the Arctic.

The course consists of five different chapters that approach the conceptual framework of cultural sensitivity from different aspects: 

  1. Introduction to the course 
  2. Conceptual framework of cultural sensitivity in tourism 
  3. Legacies of ethnocentrism in Arctic tourism  
  4. Culturally sensitive orientation in Arctic tourism
  5. Ongoing discussions on cultural sensitivity in tourism

This self-study online course is open for everyone. The course welcomes tourism workers, students, and everyone else interested in gaining a better theoretical understanding of cultural sensitivity. After the course, you will receive a certificate to show that you have passed the course ( 1 ECTS  = 27 hours of self-study work).

While we recommend you to start with the first course ‘Cultural Sensitivity in Arctic Tourism’, you can also choose to begin directly with this in-depth course.

Please, help us to spread the word about the both courses.

Cultural tourism courses | Uusi Blogs -sivusto

Protecting Sámi sacred sites through culturally sensitive tourism

A blog post on Eleonora Alariesto’s (2021) research: ‘The conflict of sacred and contaminant: The impurifying effects of tourism in Sámi sacred sites’

by Elsbeth Bembom & Randy Bruin

Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in Sápmi and this growth has led to increased negative environmental impacts, such as soil erosion and pollution. Tourism has also left its traces on Sámi sacred sites, such as Ukko’s rock in Finland, which grew into a tourism destination over the years. What happens with the sacredness of the sites, when more and more tourists visit them?

Ukko’s rock, Äijih, in Inari Sámi, at Lake Inari (See photo) is a Sámi sacred site that served for centuries as a sacrificial place and up until this day the rock still remains a place of high significance among local Inari Sámi communities. However, the rock full of meaning has also become a popular tourism spot during the last couple of decades. After a critical opinion piece by Eeva Harlin and Inka Musta on the need to preserve the sacred natural formation (Harlin and Musta, 2019), a local tour operator decided to end landing on Ukko’s rock and the local authorities removed all infrastructure, such as stairs and a dock, that was added to the island. Eleonora Alariesto, from the University of Lapland, inspired her research on this particular opinion piece (Alariesto, 2021), and examined the different forms of contaminants appearing at the Ukko’s rock sacred site using the theory of impurities. This blog post discusses Alariesto’s research through a culturally sensitive tourism lens: How can cultural sensitivity in Arctic tourism contribute to protecting sacred Sámi sites?

Ukko’s rock (Äijih, Ukonkivi, Ukko, Ukonsaari). Photo: Kaisu Raasakka/Ninara/Flickr

A dirty rock?

Even though the increasing tourism activities at this sacred site have positive economic effects for local tour operators and communities, local Sámi people have raised concerns in terms of the negative cultural and environmental impacts on the rock. To explore these sentiments, Alariesto (2021) chose to collect knowledge from news articles instead of interviewing people from the Inari Sámi community, as she did not want to bother them with yet another interview. Her theoretical framework is based on the theory of impurities by Douglas (2000), which means that what is considered dirty depends on local contexts, beliefs, norms and cultural values. Moreover, something is perceived as ‘dirty’ or inappropriate in relation to a host object, which is meant to be protected and kept clean. In her research, she found three forms of contaminants that threaten the purity and the spiritual meanings and values of Ukko’s rock:

  1. Physical contaminants

Visitors who leave trash behind, urinate, vandalize and harm the nature of the rock are examples of physical contaminants that interfere with the sacred meanings attached by Sámi communities. Other physical adjustments on the island, such as the dock and the stairs, can also be perceived as contaminants.

2. Social contaminants

The Inari Sámi usually do not visit the rock, which makes the presence of tourists and other visitors a source of contaminant that differs from its ‘original’ state. Besides, inappropriate behavior, such as drinking alcohol and snacking at the sacred site, are seen as disrespectful to the spiritual value of the cultural heritage site.

3. Cultural contaminants

Tourists visiting the island have started their own new rituals that are not connected to Sámi spirituality, such as leaving coins behind as a sacrificial practice, like many tourists do at other famous tourism spots (read throwing coins in the Trevi fountain in Rome).

As a result of these contaminants, Alariesto (2021), as a Sámi herself, advocates that Indigenous rights and cultural heritage should be protected, as many aspects of Sámi culture have nearly entirely disappeared after assimilation policies and current conflicts over land-use, where indigenous and capitalist interests clash. As Alariesto (2021) argues: “Furthermore, when protecting sacred sites, it is important to ensure the right of locals to use the sacred site, as these sites are still the subject of a wide range of activities. Sacred places provide a cultural connection with Sámi ancestors, and even if there are no longer active sacrificial rituals there, they are respected and considered essential to building Sámi identity”.

How to move forward in developing tourism at sacred sites in Sápmi? Whether some stakeholders might believe that a ban should be imposed on landing the rock, Harlin and Musta (2019) argue for “better information and guidance, so tourists would know how to act respectfully at sacred sieidi sites”. And Alariesto (2021) believes that: “When Sámi cultures are the major element of a tourism business, cultural sensitivity should be included in its methods of performing its tourism activities” (Alariesto, 2021), which is a thought we aim to discuss further.

“When Sámi cultures are the major element of a tourism business, cultural sensitivity should be included in its methods of performing its tourism activities” (Alariesto, 2021)


Call for future culturally sensitive tourism development 

As we have seen throughout the past years during the ARCTISEN project in Sápmi, there is a need for continuous renegotiation over the use of land, which Eleneora’s article exemplifies. In our conversations with Arctic tourism entrepreneurs, local tour operators and DMO representatives, we have heard about examples where tour operators planned to use the forest for their huski safari or snowmobile tours, while Sámi (tourism) businesses have routes for reindeer herding in the same area. Similar to the context of Ukko’s rock, where the needs of Sámi communities, tourists and businesses can create friction, we call for the importance of including cultural sensitivity in tourism development. When tourism stakeholders, whether Indigenous, local or any other affiliation, meet differences with respect, while simultaneously recognizing different needs and knowledge systems through continuous dialogue, disrespectful and environmentally and culturally pollutive behaviour could be avoided. As Viken, Höckert and Grimwood (2021) argue: “… we suggest that culturally sensitive tourism processes occur and thrive in encounters that enable reciprocal exchange between hosts and guests through sharing and receiving, (un)learning and teaching”.

“Instead, we suggest that culturally sensitive tourism processes occur and thrive in encounters that enable reciprocal exchange between hosts and guests through sharing and receiving, (un)learning and teaching” (Viken, Höckert & Grimwood, 2021)

Promoting culturally sensitive tourism practices could serve as a tool to reduce negative cultural and environmental impacts or – as Alariesto (2021) described it: “the impurifying effects of tourism in Sámi sacred sites” (Alariesto, 2021). A call for (more) cultural knowledge, respect, recognition, reciprocity* – in other words, cultural sensitivity – among tourism actors, from tourists to DMOs, could help solve the conflicts of sacred and contaminated sacred sites.

Thank you Eleonora for this inspiring and important research!



Alariesto, E. (2021). The conflict of sacred and contaminant: The impurifying effects of tourism in Sámi sacred sites. Matkailututkimus, 17(1), 64-70.

Harlin and Musta (2019). Myös Suomessa tulee kunnioittaa alkuperäiskansan pyhiä paikkoja. Accessed on 10th of September from:

Viken, A., Höckert, E., & Grimwood, B. S. (2021). Cultural sensitivity: Engaging difference in tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 89,


ARCTISEN online courses

*ARCTISEN has aimed to increase this awareness through, among others, producing two  online courses about the practical and theoretical implications of cultural sensitivity. Moreover, to include tourists in this process, there is a mini course on its way specially created to make tourists mindful of possible sensitivities at the places and communities they



Paths to cultural sensitivity in tourism business

Text: 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: 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

Text: 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.