Spotlight: Arctic tourism booming, self-regulation necessary

2016-06-12 13:57:57 | From:

ROVANIEMI, Finland, June 11 (Xinhua) -- The once tranquil European Arctic region has seen more and more tourists coming from other parts of the world.

Among the mysterious and romantic attractions are aurora borealis, polar bears, the Arctic Ocean, ice hotels, Santa Claus, indigenous culture, and various snow activities.


The Finnish Lapland, for example, used to be inhabited only by Sami people who raise reindeer for a living. Nowadays, its capital city Rovaniemi has been packed with first class hotels and log cabin resorts.

Despite the thousands of beds in and around the town, said to be the authentic home of Santa Claus, it could be extremely difficult to find a place to stay overnight if one visitor comes at Christmas or New Year without booking accommodation in advance.

These years, another peak time has emerged as Chinese families begin to celebrate their traditional Spring Festival traveling abroad.

The Lapland area has suffered a lack of labor force as a result of great emigration. Today, local residents, including the Sami people, take up the new career either as a hotel manager, a safari operator, a craft designer, or a skidoo trainer.

Professional tourism courses are given in colleges and schools. Tourism has become one of the pillar industries in this "city right on the Arctic Circle".

While tourism has proved to be a driver of growth for the nations in the Arctic region, the tourist operators face common challenges as how to to maintain the steady flow of tourists throughout the year, how to get visitors to stay longer and how to encourage them to return, said Rauno Posio, member of the Arctic Economic Council.

Tourism businesses in the north are usually small in size, with very limited marketing resources, Posio said at the 4th China-Nordic Arctic Symposium in Rovaniemi earlier this week. Thus he led a project to find out ways to combine resources and facilitate greater visibility and awareness for the joint attractions of the region.

Posio believed by the year 2050, the number of international tourists will double, and the Arctic tourism is surely taking on a positive trend. However, things cannot be taken for granted, as sustainability remains a top concern, noted Posio.


When a small number of tourists come to a remote Arctic village, they may bring new practices and new culture to the local community, said Daniela Tommasini, a senior lecturer at the Multidimensional Tourism Institute in Rovaniemi.

Tommasini conducted field research for years in Greenland, and found out how great the impact a cruise ship carrying hundreds of passengers could bring to the local community even if it stayed for only six to eight hours.

"They were so confused" and they might "not be willing to have tourists" any more, Tommasini told Xinhua.

Ilona Mettiainen, researcher of Arctic Centre of University of Lapland, said excessive growth of tourism may have adverse effects on the environment, such as its amenity values or biodiversity, or lead to competition on land-use between local residents' livelihoods and tourism facilities, or to crowding of some popular sites.

"One of the problems is taking pictures," said Tommasini. "Taking pictures all the time about the children, about the dogs, about this and that, and sometimes tourists are a bit too much invading into the private areas."

With the fast growth of Arctic tourism imminent, Tommasini voiced her concern.

"The bigger numbers of the tourists, the bigger problems," she said. Tommasini believed it is the capacity of the local community to say where the limit is.

"You have to foresee or plan a regulation," noted Tommasini. She reminded the best solution is to get local inhabitant involved.

However, such a regulation is not in place at least in the international level.

"It should be up to operators to self-regulate," said Johan Edelheim, director of Multidimensional Tourism Institute.

He said the operators should be provided with hard evidence of what negative impacts and irresponsible practice would have on their long-term business success. "It should be possible to convince most of them of the need to tread carefully."

Some regulations exist already at different places in the world, but only at places with local operators, Edelheim told Xinhua. Enditem

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