Emmi Kainulainen had the spark to study tourism many years ago while working at Helsinki-Vantaa airport, for which reason she moved to Rovaniemi in 2015 to study in Lapland University of Applied Sciences. During covid-19 pandemic, she decided to continue studying, and that is when she ended up studying for her master's in University of Lapland. During the past nine years, her interests have been shifting from aviation to sustainable tourism development, especially ever since she had her own children and her knowledge about the impacts of climate change has increased.

When starting her master’s thesis process, Rhodes was facing massive wildfires, but tourists were still traveling to the island despite the unfortunate situation. It made Emmi think, is the urge to travel so strong, tourists are able to be carefree and escape their daily routines, and is this how we still want tourism to be perceived, and even more to that, can we afford such thinking anymore. Therefore, the idea for the topic of her master’s thesis came quite naturally to cover more sustainable tourism futures in the context of the Arctic. Read about Emmi’s study below.

Traditionally, the Arctic region has been perceived as remote and difficult to access. Yet, improvements in accessibility, such as an increased number of low-cost airlines and gaining interest in the public media, has made the Arctic a globally interesting and available destination. Typically, the Arctic is associated with phenomena like the polar night, extreme coldness, snow, and the northern lights, along with nature-based and animal related activities, but also due to impacts of climate change, which is now attracting more people to visit the Arctic before it is “gone”.

Although there is a growing desire among companies and tourists to operate sustainably, the continuous growth of tourism often conflicts with the principles of sustainable tourism and climate change prevention. Therefore, my master’s thesis in University of Lapland, aimed to explore practices that shape tourism consumption towards generating environmental benefits, positioning tourists as active participants during their Arctic holiday experiences rather than escaping everyday life.

Previous research has primarily focused on tourists' pro-environmental behavior, but there is limited study on tourists as contributors from a practice perspective, specifically how the practices by the companies encourage the tourists towards desired outcomes. Therefore, tourism experts were interviewed by semi-structured thematic interviews to collect the data for my study, in the context of Finnish Lapland.

Photo: Emmi Kainulainen

The results indicated, currently the most prominent practices were nudging practices related to encouraging tourists to recycling, and less energy and water consumption by practices such as educating the tourists during check-in, activities and providing information in hotel folders, but also for example, how the recycling bins are being placed. In addition, tourism companies in Finnish Lapland highly value the STF program, in which the tourists are automatically choosing services and products which have been recognized to meet the certain sustainability criteria. Moreover, tourism companies are closely cooperating with other stakeholders and visit organizations to improve year-round tourism and minimize the harm in nature. On the other hand, practices which concretely include tourists into active contribution for instance during activities, as a separate experience or through donation were almost non-existence, although partially recognized, such as conservation programs, planting trees or fighting alien species.

Therefore, limited application of these practices highlighted several challenges and opportunities. Mainly, all the recognized practices had a positive response by the interview participants, but the challenges occurred especially in seasonality, productization, current financing model and resources, for which reason companies are not able to adapt new practices or find time for joint development for instance with NGOs. However, if companies were able to develop environmental acts as profitable services, the power of example would work as a motivator for other businesses.

The study proposes that the three key themes which emerged from the study are interconnected pro-environmental practices aiming towards comprehensive pro-environmental tourism futures in times of climate change and increasing global tourism. Challenges must first be overcome, with the power of example likely to be the primary driver of change in practices. Consequently, the future will determine who will be the pioneers in responding to the demand for environmentally friendly tourism and integrating these practices into a profitable business, because to a large extent tourists and regulations will demand it in order to protect the pristine Arctic nature and ecosystems.