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The soundscape is an essential tourism element

Careful consideration of the sonic environment is a must for the creation of sustainable and memorable tourist experiences, writes Ivan Fesenko.

Finnish Lapland has seen extensive growth in its tourism sector in recent years and the sector keeps breaking records, especially over the winter season. Loads of snow, cold and wild open spaces, portrayed through the various graphic messages on social media and advertisements, convey an atmosphere of extraordinary, inherent to the place and everything that is happening there.

In tourism, most attention has always been given to how things look to enchant travellers with visuals, to attract and to sell. But since we are talking about experiences, do they only involve sight? What about the other senses?

The environment of sounds, or soundscape, plays a significant role in the way tourists perceive their experience. Whether it is conscious or sub-conscious, tourists realise the importance of sounds, as they say the main soundscape of Finland is silence.

Locally delivered husky-sledding safaris are one of the most popular tourist activities in Lapland and an excellent example of the important role of sound in sculpting the tourist experience.

“The main soundscape of Finland is silence.”

On the unspoilt canvas of silent winter soundscape, ordinary sounds of dogs barking and sledges running on snow, combined with the sense of cold air, power of dogs and finding of self in the exotic settings, assume a special intonation and meaning to create a “peak moment”, which will last in memory after the trip. Shouting commands in Finnish to dogs boosts the level of engagement, just as the sense of powerful force, the sled being pulled through the picturesque landscape, enhances a feeling of unity with the dogs.

However, the soundscape also brings invisible things to the forefront. For example, aeroplanes and military jets taking off and landing disturb even local inhabitants. Alien sounds mercilessly intrude the harmony of the moment to carelessly remind tourists they are still here, in the 21st century, surrounded by machines that sound typically trivial but odd when heard while standing on a sled pulled by huskies through the forest.

Evidently, the growth of the industry attracts bigger crowds of tourists and involves greater use of technologies, thus impacting the nature of tourist experiences. A spoilt tourist soundscape will affect the quality of those experiences. This is why careful consideration of the sonic environment is a must for the creation of sustainable and memorable tourist experiences in Finnish Lapland.

Ivan Fesenko
Master's student of tourism, culture and international management at the University of Lapland.