What will happen to tourism in the future?

This question has been asked so many times that it has lost its appeal. It’s a question without an answer. A question without a specific person, or a group of experts, to answer it. Still, the question sticks with us at the beginning of the year 2021, with a chance for a fresh start. The fresh start is, however, shadowed by the dark cloud of a small, mutating virus. The fresh start is thus a start for new worries: new form of the covid-19 virus is spreading globally and we are hearing alerting news from various countries about the pandemic getting out of the control, again. We are taking the first steps in vaccinating populations, but for many countries the pace is too slow.

During these times of the pandemic, tourism has not vanished, nor disappeared from our minds. It is in the centre of many discussions, even more so if we define tourism as travelling – as motion, mobility. Countries are regulating the mobility of people, allowing some of us more flexibility to practice it. This means e.g. more freedom within work-related travel in comparison with leisure travel. We also spend time envisioning the next summer, and what kind of tourism might take place then. We are pondering our forthcoming holidays, whether we will spend holidays at our home countries again, and whether some countries are still in lockdown.

We dream about travel, wish to travel and hope to get engaged with

life outside our own bubbles through travel.

But the reality is that whilst our need to travel stays, so does another emergency state of our planet in addition to that of covid-19: the one of the 6th mass extinction, climate change and constantly growing human population. We travel in a world of emergency. Can we grasp this emergency? In Rovaniemi, Outi has finally experienced a few real cold and crispy winter days. After those days, writing about climate change does not feel so urgent. The non-urgency manifests during the daily walks in the near-by forest, when dressed with many layers of clothes, when walking without meeting anyone, even though the walk crosses with the ski-tracks and ski-centre. The only activity in the landscape is a snow cannon blowing snow to a huge pile, taking advantage of the cold weather.

Kurivaara, Rovaniemi. Photo: Tarja Salmela.

For Tarja, proper snow is still on its way to Tromsø, which is a place some might call a “ski paradise” – paradise with only a few ski days so far, whilst we are already past mid-January and the sun is coming back. Here, writing about climate change appears more urgent than ever. Even though the challenges related to the delayed ski season are minor compared to the covid-19 pandemic, the lack of snow in Tromsø raises a huge concern. It is a real reminder of climate change and its rapidity, posing new chances and challenges to our everyday lives.

Concerns for the climate are present also in snowy Rovaniemi, despite the fleeting absence of the sense of urgency when the thermometer shows -28 degrees Celsius. The snow cannon works as a good reminder of the climate change and our preparations related to it. The ski-centre is appreciating the cold weather to make snow with cheaper expenses. They are making snow for the next autumn to come; the autumns are getting warmer, with uncertainty of snow. The ski centre needs snow for the national and international ski teams, and to arrange ski competitions early in the season. Sport tourism brings tourists to the town even during the pandemic, and the facilities are also appreciated by the local people.

But what does a lack of snow mean for the futures of tourism, both in northern Finland and northern Norway? It can mean that less winter tourists will come to visit these places. It is also possible that when adventure-seeking tourists come later in the spring when there (hopefully) is more snow, the risk of avalanches will be considerable, especially in northern Norway’s mountain landscapes. More skiers are prone to get trapped by avalanches, both locals and foreigners. It can also mean that skiers want to go to other places to ski, to perhaps fly more, travel more. There can be more people that take on new ways of being outdoors, when the lack of snow makes it hard to ski. This might mean, for example, a growing usage of e-bikes to go to the mountain tops. Perhaps climate change proposes a new future of sport tourism as such. The futures of tourism here in the north also require the providers of outdoor activities – who are already hit by the impacts of the pandemic – to think anew their services.

Yet, when tourism services might change, we also need to take seriously

the fact that our ways of travelling will, or have to, change.

We need to start to realize the impact of our aviation-dominated travelling on the environment. This might be ahead of us anyway, due to the covid-19 pandemic and the current changes taking place in the aviation industry. The topic of aviation easily creates hostility and anxiety. Who has right to fly? Who has right to criticise flying? How should the aviation industry be supported, or should it? Are we doomed to live in isolation here in the north, if no planes arrive or leave?

Railway connections from the north to other parts of Europe seem to be difficult to create – at least from a Finnish and Norwegian perspectives. At the same time, there are news from Sweden of new railway connections and of charter-trains. However, our dependency on aviation as the primary means of leisure travel is unsustainable. It has been argued that technological advancements within aviation will not be enough to compensate the negative environmental impacts of aviation industry due to the constant growth of the frequency and distances of flying. And still, we seem to continue to put our trust in technology.

Shouldn’t we also discuss the potential of domestic travel and proximity tourism

in solving this massive challenge our climate has come to face?

In our project, we have started the year by discussing what does the vision of proximity as the “new normal” look like today, at the beginning of 2021. Proximity as a travel trend seems realistic, and in many cases almost unavoidable. But does the new year – which is the second year when we might not travel far – invite us to visit our proximate environments? Will the families from the southern Finland and Norway come again to the north? Will they long for new places? The attractiveness of Lapland’s nature becomes now “tested” by the domestic travellers. We know that there are people who want to come to visit Lapland again and again, year after year. But this is voluntary. Of course, no-one has to travel to the north, but could Lapland and the north become boring for some? Do we want bored travellers to visit us? Are these travellers able to make sustainable and responsible choices?

Who are we expecting to act responsibly and in caring ways?

And caring for whom/what?

Who/what should we care about the most?

Responsibility, environmental crisis, care and the covid-19 pandemic go hand in hand. The impacts of the covid-19 pandemic are severe and they stay within us for a long time. Can we talk about responsible choices when we have people who are living alone and haven’t met other people (genuinely met) perhaps almost for a year? How can we expect responsibility and a caring attitude from them, when they finally get a chance to get out? Maybe their attitude has changed, naturally, and they respect more things that are closer.

But is the problem necessarily about proximity and distance? Is it more about the frequency of travel? Or about the easiness of travelling? Or about our ways of travelling, and about our attitudes while travelling? We should be critical of our motivations when advising people on how to travel, potentially demonizing their once-in-a-year holiday experience. After the pandemic we probably all earn a holiday to ourselves. But if this contributes to the warming climate, it is a paradox that is hard to deal with. What, then, is our role in the future(s) of tourism, and the future of our planet? Are we doomed to feel ashamed of our travels in the future?´

The changing climate in its tangibility urges us to think about ways to ensure that winters do not disappear altogether from the north. But do we do this for “us” or for “the climate”? Maybe both, and maybe that’s exactly how it should be. Our desires to ski, our motivations to live up north – aren’t those about intraliving, living together, with/as the nature?

Outi Rantala & Tarja Salmela

tsalmela Yleinen