One of our ongoing aims has been to spearhead a movement towards more sustainable tourism practices in our region of Finnish Lapland. Part of this is about creating an appreciation for why this is important amongst both policy and decision makers and service providers (in part by setting high personal standards and showing why these can be advantageous) and, linked to that, creating a dialogue on the subject which leads to further cooperation between the Northern companies.
We support the establishment of protected areas such as national parks and reserves to safeguard the finest wildlife and scenery and aim to be part of the integration of local community and tourism needs into the long term plans for these areas. To this end we were part of, for instance, an EU Village to Village project designed to develop cooperation between the villages and service providers in the vicinity of the area's national park.
This, in turn, led to the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park gaining Europarc status in 2013. The charter park development project has been in existance for 15 years and brings together nature tourism and entrepreneurs in the development of sustainable nature tourism in protected areas. Our region is now, therefore, signed up to the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism program. This, in turn, raised the international importance for nature tourism in the region which was one of the original goals of the marketing group for Enontekiö when we first came to the region and brainstormed with the municipality about how we saw the area developing sustainably in the years to come.
We support the development of voluntary regulatory arrangements and training programmes that are available to tourism operators that would help companies contribute to the economic prosperity and environmental well being of the local communities and environment in which they operate. As such, we have participated in various EU-led projects (with Pasi often actually being on the steering group or board of these) looking at everything from sustainable tourism in the National Park to cooperation across borders and quality & safety practices in tourism. Through this, we have become one of a number of local area guides who completed a series of training workshops which ultimately led to accredited National Park Guides status, trained to communicate informatively about nature and sustainability in the park itself. Future targets in this area include hoping to initiate a project to look more at responsible tourism practices in Enontekiö as well as to use the Northern Sleddog Entrepreneur's Association as a platform for developing voluntary regulatory standards within our own specific industry.
There are a number of environmental accreditation bodies that have some relevance to our business – for instance the Green tourism awards in the UK, Nature’s best from Sweden, the UIAA Environmental Label etc (holders of UIAA Environmental Label promote high standards of conduct and support the work of the UIAA in the international protection of the environment and access for responsible mountain activities. The UIAA is a partner in the UN International Partnership for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions and works closely with the World Conservation Union (IUCN) to promote protected areas and access and conservation strategies for climbing.) We looked at all of these and decided first in 2011 to become a Finnish partner of the international Leave No Trace alliance (which is based on 7 key philosophical principles centred on a set of outdoor ethics promoting conservation in the outdoors and then to move towards getting our business Ecotourism Network accredited - which is a quality-based accreditation procedure which we are in the process of going through, at present.
We live in the heart of Europe’s last great wilderness area. Most people here who live and work here do so very close to the land and many 'best practices' in terms of environmental principles are common parts of everyday life here. Having said this, whilst most people who guide here safely can apply trendy survival and bushcraft 'tools' like getting a fire going under nearly any circumstances, many local companies do not understand the language of 'responsible travel' and nor do they necessarily understand that this part of the market is a growing one which will eventually be the base standard. Hence, we have a lot of work to do locally to build an understanding of how to excite the consumer about how closely the people here still live to nature whilst also building a common language in terms of responsible travel principles.
To date, the majority of the tourists who have been coming here, have been in large groups, either as part of a Christmas package (British tourists) or as part of a group holiday from work (French tourists). Without these tourists, there would be few services available at all in these areas and the whole demography of the region – and its developmental potential – would be very different. Hence, the mass tourism market has been extremely important in the far North for the inherent survival of the area. However, it has very different needs and principles from the tourist market the area hopes to attract for sustainable growth, long-term. There is no point in Enontekiö trying to develop along the same alpine-ski-resort style as some of the ski centres c. 100km south of us. Rather, the aim is to match development to suit the area and the natural way of life (and travel) it supports.
The vast majority of people visiting for mass tourism holidays, for instance, are unlikely to have made their company selection on responsible tourism grounds. Understandably, therefore, it is not surprising that few of the tourism companies in these markets value the added quality standards that responsible tourism providers bring to the table. Neither do they pay anything but lip service to environmental practices, local-area cooperation, local sourcing of supplies etc. At the end of the day, we see that most of their decisions are still based on an old school view of the immediate bottom line and any communication that is made on these subjects is effectively, ‘green wash’. But a) how can consumers tell and b) how can the companies that leading the way w.r.t. responsible practices or in terms of the care they invest in their clients (for instance, our British cooperator, Camp Adventure), really stand out from the crowd?
Enontekiö has been planning towards a future in which individual adventure travellers will be a welcome target group since we believe that their respect for the land and love of nature-based tourism will be the ideal fit with what the area immediately has to offer in terms of the wilderness location, outdoor products and natural lifestyle holidays that the Finnish tourists who come here currently enjoy. We also believe that the kind of standards we set in all areas of our business will be the expected norm - rather than the exception - in the years to come as travellers become more environmentally conscious and keen to support business that consciously try to have a low impact. This would be in keeping with the larger development goals of the area.
Whilst it is impossible to share much on the subject of responsible travel with those who are with us for a short time, our approach and philosophy is hopefully obvious to all of those who visit the farm. We have a nature trail activity for those who prefer to amble around, (rather than be pulled around) our agility course, signboards discussing responsible husky farm ownership as well as ones which baseline where we are at, in terms of environmental practices, etc. We communicate about our local purchasing policies in terms of the food we serve to the multiday customers (Arctic char, salmon, reindeer with hand-picked and made lingonberry jam and Lappish squeaky cheese with hand-picked and made cloudberry jam) etc.
For those with us for longer tours, subjects like environmental restrictions and challenges when operating in the remote Arctic, as well as subjects like how people continue to live, in part, from the land, all come up as natural conversations. We like it if the customers leave us not only understanding more about the world of the dogs but also more about the world, lifestyle and culture which they help to preserve by spending time in the region in which we operate in the high European Arctic.