Realities and contrasts
Three weeks ago, I walked the snowless streets of Helsinki in the dark, beautiful early morning. I admired two swans that slowly entered the shore of Töölönlahti. I took off my gloves as the weather felt so warm, until a chilly breeze reminded me that it is still January, after all. Another reminder of winter was the beautifully decorated city center: Christmas lights made the strolling in the city a celebration. Later that week, I received a message from my mother from Rovaniemi (in Northern Finland), telling me how dad had been pushing snow and getting ready for the approaching, even more snowy, days. Only a week before, there was a long warmer period in the North and the roads were covered with sheet ice as the snow came down as rain, and freezed during the night. A confusion took over. In which season, actually, am I… now? Was it like this when I was a child? Finnish people have acquainted to differences between winters in the South and North (we however are 1157 km long country), but still something did not feel right.
To do research on tourism in the times of uncertainty is not easy. We are facing, and living, the reality of climate change. It is predicted that winters will become warmer and shorter in the future. Climate change-induced warming in Finland is expected to be approximately 50 percent higher than the global average1 due to Finland’s location in northern latitudes.2 This leads to the enhanced melting, and thus absence, of snow during the winter months. A recent YLE National News-channel TV interview3 with researcher Ilona Lång from Finnish Meteorological Institute, and Petteri Tolvanen, the head of programme (Finnish biodiversity) at WWF Finland, taught me that the effects of the warming of our climate can lead up to ten days increase in the amount of summer days in Southern Finland and five days in Northern Finland, and that increase is about to take place every decade. Vice versa, a correlating decrease in the amount of winter days is predicted. January 2020 in Finland has so far been approx. 10 degrees warmer than a long term average4, and the rise of the average temperature in Finland between years 1847-2018 does not leave much space for interpretation (see picture 2; see also Climate Guide).
One might think, initially and opportunistically, that warmer winters – likely leading to the frequent absence of snow in Southern Finland – might provide a business opportunity for ”snow-guaranteed” tourism business, such as ski resorts, in Finnish Lapland.5 Yet, no one can escape the precarious times: even if we will most presumably have some snow in the Northern Finland6 in the future, the consequences of the warming of our climate are the most severe up North. A big part of Fjeld Lapland’s7 nature – trees, plants and animals – are to struggle, as these species have evolved to cope particularly in open fjelds and arctic conditions.
As climate conditions change, this leads to the impossibility for plants and animals to rise up any more north (there’s nowhere to go). This also means that the tree line is constantly rising. Together with the warming climate this causes distress especially for spruces who are prone to insect damages and fungal disease, while birches – our main broadleaf tree species – instead benefit of warming climate, gaining more and more living space8. When it comes to small arctic plants, such as Ranunculus glacialis (jääleinikki), or arctic birds such as Lagopus muta (kiiruna) and Plectrophenax nivalis (pulmunen), climate change can mean even an end to these Fjell Lapland’s nature’s creatures.9
Threats and reality link to tourism: Matka Travel Fair 2020
Climate change and the posed threats to our vulnerable nature links unavoidably to the tourism industry and tourism research. Situated, everyday stories such as my confrontation with swans in Töölönlahti in January, my dad’s snow scoop project just one night-train travel up north from Töölönlahti, tourists’ experiences (or disappointments) of Finnish Lapland’s ”winter wonderland”, and the confrontation of spruces and damaging insects in Fjeld Lapland bring another angle to current discussions of tourism and tourism trends. They also provide a different angle to tourism’s role and responsibility as an industry to take part in the collective work to stop climate-change induced warming worldwide.
As representative of our project, I attended the Northern Europe’s largest travel fair – Nordic Matka Travel Fair – In January 2020. Adventure-seeking travelers (68 300 of them this year10) came to get inspiration for their future holidays – an estimated every fourth of them looking for travel deals to make holiday dreams become a reality. In addition to holiday-planners, professionals of the field of travel and tourism, together with students and researchers, came together to get insights of and discuss the current topics in the travel industry. This year was also the first year when the Maata pitkin (‘By Land’) travel fair was held in conjunction with the fair11. Perhaps partly because of that, sustainable forms of travel were strongly visible in the fair. In addition, according to Messukeskus communications, ”more than half of the visitors felt that they had received new information about and inspiration for sustainable and eco-friendly forms of travel, and the preservation of biodiversity at travel destinations.”12
The crowd in the fair created a colorful hustle and bustle in Messukeskus – a murmur and throng rhythmed with announcements of the upcoming presentations by various stakeholders in multiple stages. While the Fair is strongly international and exotic by nature, as much space was reserved for travel within Finland, with regions, cities and towns from all corners of Finland exhibiting the multiple selection of activities and accommodation options in their location. According to Messukeskus communications, ”some 60% of the visitors said they came to the event because of destinations in Finland, and 85% of the visitors wanted tips especially on domestic nature destinations and mini-breaks”.13
This carries an important message and adds to the already recognized, growing trend of traveling in one’s homeland in Finland19. It also points to the desire of travelers to spend free time in nature, and to create a lifestyle where everyday life and routines are briefly, and perhaps regularly, stopped by mini-getaways in proximate destinations. This ”mini” aspect of traveling, with the potential of entailing a more sustainable form of traveling to a destination than long-distance flying, arouses curiosity within our research team. And this curiosity was indeed rewarded when I was wandering through the exhibitor stands: I left with a heavy bag of leaflets and magazines all highlighting the vast amount of opportunities for both solo travelers, couples and families to have an adventure, and to slow down, in both rural and urban areas within Finland, and in particular nature-based destinations.
Adaptation, brag and shame in travel
The array of presentations from various stakeholders of the tourism industry also had a strong emphasis on sustainability and responsibility. One of the most inspiring talks was by Jeppe Klockareson from Sweden Fair Travel,14 regarding the challenges, responsibilities, opportunities and #flygskam in tourism. Sweden works as an interesting example of the ”shame-movement” regarding air travel (#flygskam): Sweden is a country where an actual decline in the amount of flights has been documented and its reasons been connected to flight shaming. According to Time magazine15, two Swedish grassroots initiatives – Flygfritt and Tagsemester – have spread the word of flygskam and the importance of choosing other forms of travel such as train, instead of flying.16 The phenomenon is also spread to other European countries, including Finland, Germany and Netherlands17.
Jeppe Klockareson’s message was to destabilize the current understandings of tourism’s measurement of success. If we only rely on the idea of growth through calculating visitor volumes and turnover, we end up forgetting the actual potential of tourism to, among other important things, generate income, create jobs, promote socio-economic development both locally and nationally, distribute economic resources between rich and poor, develop infrastructures and, last but not least, protect and conserve nature and culture. To evaluate tourism’s success through a more nuanced approach then might lead to the dissolution of boundaries between growth and conservation, or growth and responsibility. But is this the way to go?
Taking the scenarios of forcefully growing amount of international tourism arrivals together with the expectations of global population growth into consideration, we urgently have to re-evaluate the measurements of success. The need to develop more polyphonic measures of growth is also communicated by tourism researchers, forming – to give one example – the focus of an ongoing consortium project Multidisciplinary Metrics for Sustainable Tourism in Cultural Environments led by University of Lapland and professor Soile Veijola20. In this project, a multidisciplinary research team works towards responding to the need of managed development of the growing tourism industry in Finland, and worldwide, emphasizing the importance of multi-disciplinarity, ethics, responsibility and genuine dialogue between different stakeholders as prerequisites to measure and understand the impact of tourism in our natural and cultural environments21.
The managed development of growth was also strongly present in Klockareson’s presentation, emphasizing that DMOs have to concentrate more on management than marketing, and to start to co-create experiences ”that attract both locally and internationally”, where ”the inhabitants must be the primary interest” and where the goal ”must be to create a better place to live!”. This type of co-creation of experiences follows the logic of ‘community-first planning’ – a fundamental building block in developing a thriving and sustainable tourism sector in Arctic Europe – as brought forward by tourism researchers working on the topic of Arctic tourism in times of change22, 23.
With all this, we come to a conclusion where the question is less about whether tourism is ”bad” or ”good”, and more of how are we able to better identify, and put into action, those positive elements of tourism and travel that contribute to the welfare of communities and environments. In addition to this, we must be brave enough to question those current underlying logics within tourism that in fact do damage to the welfare of our planet.
Envisioning the future
Taking these thoughts back to Finland, to climate change-induced warming in Northern latitudes, I will now carry on to envisioning new tourism futures as the final part of this blog post. I will also add another layer to the critical reading of tourism in precarious times: I form a dialogue with one inspiring anthropologist, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, and her thoughts about progress. The line of thinking I’m about to practice demands a transition from anthropocentric accounts of tourism, towards the acknowledgement of various other Earthly creatures we share our planet with.
Anna Tsing notes in her wonderful book how progress is embedded in widely accepted assumptions about what it means to be human – like we were “made through progress”24. This is an imaginative framework – an enclosure within which also nonhuman forms of life are stuck: we tend to consider nonhumans dependent on us through our “exceptional” tendency and capacity to look forward instead of living day-to-day (like nonhumans do). Yet, Tsing reminds us how “the modern human conceit is not the only plan for making worlds: we are surrounded by many world-making projects, human and not human”25. This multiplicity of world-making-projects should be taken into more fundamental account when envisioning the future(s) of tourism.
Then, to understand these world-making projects, we perhaps need to give up and leave the enclosure of progress as we know it. Then it might become possible to hear, and response to, the polyphonic stories, instead of listening to the univocal (boring and potentially damaging) ones. 26
We can take polyphonic world-making as the starting point for our tourism research and practice.
This asks us to start paying closer attention to what happens in the diverse multispecies communities that surround us, and giving up on our anthropo-lens. A better future to our planet demands re-connection with the more-than-human “soil” of life. In the words of Anna Tsing: “As progress tales lose traction (…) it becomes possible to look differently”27. Would this looking-differently eventually lead to the reconceptualization of tourism altogether?
Our research group suggests that we can start by paying care-full attention to the small and proximate. This type of approach demands moving away from anthropocentric approaches to tourism. We can ask surprising questions:
What would the type of “pedagogical tourism” look like that has an orientation towards the impacts of climate change to our proximate nature?
We can focus on our near-by forests, trees of all generations, rocks – small and large, berries and beard lichen, and the vibrant multispecies collectives that human gaze cannot reach – as our companions of envisioning:
What would “proximate” teach us and the next generation about distances, and the scale of movement, that are so central for tourism and traveling but that are not the same for all the creatures in this planet?
We can listen to the polyphonic storytelling during different seasons of the year. Polyphonic stories take place, all the time, in various forms and rhythms:
What would the type of caring tourism look like that is based on ways to practice attentiveness and response-ability by pausing to the different rhythms of nature?
We can re-think the meaning of our nature spaces, as homes and livelihoods of multispecies collectives, including humans, instead of sites of capitalist production:
What would the type of caring tourism look like that contributes to the revitalization of our nature’s biodiversity in areas where it suffers the impacts of climate change-induced warming and e.g. forest industry?
What would this mean, locally, for example in Finnish Lapland? Instead of some of the tourism stakeholders in Finnish Lapland comforting to the idea of opportunistic business and relying on snow, while others less fortunate just working out new ways to make a business without it (such as tourism businesses in the south), we should consider the aims to be perhaps something totally else.
What if we questioned the logic of progress (growth, expansion) altogether?
Our ILA-group is planning to present the current topics of our research project at Matka Nordic Travel Fair 2021. Hopefully then we will have a chance to discuss these questions, and many more, with you readers and followers of this blog.
Tarja Salmela works as a post-doctoral researcher in the project
1 Mikkonen, Laine, Mäkelä, Gregow, Tuomenvirta, Lahtinen & Laaksonen, 2015, p. 1521. The full publication: Mikkonen, Laine, Mäkelä, Gregow, Tuomenvirta, Lahtinen & Laaksonen (2015) Trends in the average temperature in Finland, 1847–2013. Stoch Environ Res Risk Assess 29:1521–1529. DOI 10.1007/s00477-014-0992-2
2 Mikkonen et al. (2015, p. 1521) state how Finland is subject to the polar amplification of climate change-induced warming, which is in turn due to the enhanced melting of snow and ice and other feedback mechanisms.
3 Yle National News Morning show 29.1.2020: an interview with Researcher Ilona Lång (Ilmatieteen laitos) and Petteri Tolvanen (WWF ohjelmapäällikkö)
4 ”Tiedotearkisto: 2020 Alkutalvi on ollut hyvin leuto” https://ilmatieteenlaitos.fi/tiedote/1231244452 (in Finnish)
5 See e.g. https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-11157961 (in Finnish)
6 Researcher Ilona Lång from Ilmatieteen laitos in Yle News Morning show 29.1.2020 together with Petteri Tolvanen, WWF ohjelmapäällikkö
7 ”Tunturi-Lappi”, also known as ”Fell Lapland” is a subregion in north west Lapland. It includes a cluster of fells including Pallas, Olos, Ylläs and Levi.
8 Petteri Tolvanen, WWF ohjelmapäällikkö in Yle News Morning show 29.1.2020; LUKE Natural Resources Institute of Finland Forests and climate change https://www.luke.fi/tietoa-luonnonvaroista/metsa/metsat-ja-ilmastonmuutos/
9 Petteri Tolvanen, WWF ohjelmapäällikkö in Yle News Morning show 29.1.2020
10-13 “The Matka Nordic Travel Fair stirred a desire to travel” https://messukeskus.com/press-release/the-matka-nordic-travel-fair-stirred-a-desire-to-travel/?lang=en
15 “In Europe, the Movement to Give Up Air Travel Is Taking Off. Could the U.S. Be Next?” https://time.com/5641390/europe-train-air-travel/
16 As a counter-trend see also #tagskryt, train-bragging, see e.g. BBC’s article https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190718-flygskam
18 See also University of Lapland’s led MAMOMI-project (Multidisciplinary Measurements of Sustainable Tourism Growth in Cultural Environments) https://www.ulapland.fi/FI/Kotisivut/MAMOMI
19 See e.g. Sector reports – Tourism (2019) by Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment: http://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/161292/TEM_3_2019_Matkailun_toimialaraportti.pdf (in Finnish), see also news headlines of the topic e.g. https://www.etua.fi/ajankohtaista/kotimaan-matkailun-suosio-kasvaa, https://www.ess.fi/teemat/Matkailu/art2546580,
21 see MAMOMI-project (Multidisciplinary Metrics for Sustainable Tourism in Cultural Environments), https://www.ulapland.fi/FI/Kotisivut/MAMOMI, and Veijola & Mattero (2019): Matkailun kestävä kehittäminen kulttuuriympäristöissä tarvitsee monitieteisiä mittareita (in Finnish), https://tietokayttoon.fi/ajankohtaista/blogi/-/blogs/matkailun-kestava-kehittaminen-kulttuuriymparistoissa-tarvitsee-monitieteisia-mittareita
22 University of Lapland led the subproject of Arctic Tourism in Times of Change, called “Seasonality of Arctic Tourism”, in 2018, with assistant professor Outi Rantala being the subproject’s project manager
24 Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (2015) The Mushroom at the End of the World. On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. p. 21.
25 ibid., p. 21
26 ibid., p .23.
27 ibid., p. 22