We attended the annual Symposium of Finnish Tourism and Leisure Research held in Joensuu in the end of May 2019. The theme of the conference was responsible tourism, its opportunities and challenges.
Our objective was to find out the latest on the responsible tourism front in Finland in order to start our own research for the Erasmus+ TOURIST* project.
The following three issues struck a chord with us.
Focus on meaningful nature experiences
Tourism is about creating experiences. Meaningful experiences can range from finding your inner self and physical limits in a Finnish national park to spending quality time at the cottage.
We were surprised to hear that memorable national park experiences had hardly changed in the past 50 years, from the 1970s to 2010s. Close nature encounters, beautiful scenery and animals are at the core of the experience. The authentic nature experience remains the main reason for visiting national parks. Immersion and interaction with nature are as important as ever for Finns.
For many Finnish people, spending time at the cottage is the foundation for their connection to the nature. There are 590,785 cottages in Finland and the cottage owners spend 79 days on average at their cottages annually (Statistics Finland 2018). Based on the research, it looks like Finns will continue their close bond to their cottages well into the future. On one hand, as the line between work and leisure has already blurred and there are more opportunities for distance work, people are able to spend more time in their second homes close to the nature. On the other hand, the increased hypermobility makes cottages compete with other ways to spend time, and Finns may end up spending less time at their cottages in the future.
Customer understanding is the key to profitable tourism business
For a business, it is essential to know the values and the behaviour of its customers. Companies need to communicate with their customers in ways that they understand. It is important to find out how customers respond to different marketing stimuli. There may be differences between nationalities and generations when it comes to understanding the concepts of sustainability and responsibility, for instance.
Communicating and giving instructions in a positive way can have an impact on some customers, but for others companies just need to adjust their processes. Messages based on positive experiences and emotions are powerful and engaging. That way it is possible to achieve real change in customer behaviour and make tourists choose responsible options.
Socio-cultural issues need urgent attention
In Finland, the interest in sustainability has mainly started from the environmental aspects and cost savings from responsible environmental practices. Many presentations implicated a huge gap in the industry and customer understanding of the socio-cultural impacts of tourism. Most companies do not even know what they are, nor do the customers. Companies may already be doing many things right, but are not conscious of that, not to mention that they would consider communicating about their practices to the customers. There is a clear need for more research about the topic and implementation of the best practices for the industry.
Meaningful partnerships between companies that share similar values enable entrepreneurs reach responsible business goals together. These partnerships can help the whole destination achieve excellent service quality in terms of socio-cultural responsibility. The community spirit, the communal way of working, would not only contribute to good customer satisfaction but also help tourism businesses to attract recruits from younger generations. Crucial for many rural destinations, especially.
Thank you, Joensuu!
The warm hospitality of the people of Joensuu made an impression on us. Joensuu is a well-functioning conference city. The university, hotels and the evening venue were all at an easy walking distance. The atmosphere in the conference was great, all participated actively, even when we started our presentation with power-posing Amy-Cuddy-style, raising hands in a victory sign towards the sky. The audience cooperated well…and looked like a Finnish forest! J
The next symposium destination was announced in the end of the meeting. We look forward to attending the event on the island of Seili next year. No doubt, we will get to experience the responsibility issues of archipelago destinations first hand there.
Written by: Leena Grönroos and Annika Konttinen, Senior Lecturers of Responsible Tourism
*TOURIST project: The aim of the project is to create competence centres for the development of sustainable tourism and innovative financial management strategies to increase the positive impact of local tourism in Thailand and Vietnam.
Photo: Tarvainen, Visit Finland