«Two years ago I moved to Finnish Lapland to pursue my Master’s Degree in Northern Tourism at the University of Lapland. During my studies, I deepened my academic knowledge of Arctic tourism and had a chance to explore all the wonders that Lapland has to offer. The unique people, landscapes and wilderness quickly caught my interest.

As I learned more about the local culture and environment, I promptly realised that winter tourism is a crucial industry for Lapland's identity and economy. While I was working as a safari guide during my first winter, I noticed how many tourists are drawn to Lapland for its snowy landscapes, Santa Claus magic and variety of winter activities. The combination of natural beauty and unique tourism experiences creates the winter wonderland atmosphere that is truly worth visiting. Despite being a remote destination, the number of tourists is constantly increasing, with Lapland becoming a highly attractive Arctic destination.

Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland
Altai skiing in Lapland’s wilderness

However, as my studies progressed, I deepened my understanding of climate change issues that are alarmingly affecting this winter wonderland. Rising temperatures are particularly impacting the Arctic regions, where global warming can cause shorter and milder winters. Such climatic alterations are having a significant effect on winter tourism and snow-related destinations, as they are particularly dependent on consistent snowfall and cold weather conditions. Due to climate change, the traditional winter landscapes and popular snow activities in Lapland are at risk.

Faced with the realities of climate change, I started wondering: What would happen to winter tourism in Lapland if there was no snow? This question raised my interest and encouraged me to explore the impacts of climate change on the tourism industry.

Pyhä-Luosto National Park, Lapland

The aim of my Master’s thesis was to understand how tourists perceive climate change impacts in Rovaniemi, Lapland and to what extent it is affecting their decision-making. With my study, I wanted to support the previous research on the topic and provide valuable recommendations to local stakeholders in adapting to climate change impacts.

To collect the data I designed a survey, that provided quantitative and qualitative insights into tourists' background information, their perceptions towards climate change and its influence on their travel decisions. To engage participants, I made QR-code cards, that were distributed in popular tourist locations within Rovaniemi during the winter months from January to March 2024. This ensured a wide range of respondents and relatively quick data collection.

The study covered a demographic profile of well-educated tourists visiting Rovaniemi, who were mostly coming from European countries, travelling in their middle ages with partners or families. The results revealed that despite the challenges that climate change presents to Rovaniemi's winter landscapes, many tourists continue to find the destination attractive. While the image of snowy winter plays a crucial role in tourists' decision-making, tourists showed flexibility in adapting their preferences in response to climate change. The alternative non-snow-related offerings like Christmas-themed Santa Claus activities, wellness experiences and Northern Lights watching are gasping the interest of visitors. Many respondents found alternative attractions that did not rely on traditional winter landscapes attractive enough to visit Rovaniemi again. This adaptability shows potential in diversifying tourism offerings and developing Rovaniemi as a future destination affected by climate change. 

Northern Lights in Rovaniemi, Lapland
Sauna experience next to the Iso-Vietonen lake

My journey to Lapland has been fulfilled with both personal and academic importance and led me to develop my research interests in climate change and tourism. The findings of my thesis show that the tourism industry can be adapted to the climate change. Even though the future is uncertain, the approaches developed by researchers can help mitigate the possible impacts and maintain the unique charm and importance of the Arctic». © Valeriia Makeionok

Master’s Degree Programme in Northern Tourism is organised by the UArctic Thematic Network on Northern Tourism.

Read more about the Northern Tourism programme and the University of Lapland.