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Post-COVID tourism turns towards sustainability

Snowy landscapes, such as this one in Ylläs, Lapland, are among Finland’s biggest tourist attractions. 

Juha Laine / Visit Finland

The Covid pandemic has profoundly changed tourism but not only to the worst. It has helped us to discover local travel gems and make sustainability a number one priority across the industry, writes Kristiina Hietasaari, Senior Director at Visit Finland.

We Finns are avid travellers. In 2019, Finland ranked fifth among European countries in the number of nights spent abroad per inhabitant. During the last couple of years, most of us were forced to stay in Finland for our holidays as the global pandemic strongly restricted travelling abroad. For many, the initial disappointment soon turned into a positive perception of our own country as a holiday destination. Trips around one’s own surroundings and to destinations on the other side of the country revealed many hidden gems and oases for relaxation or inspiration. It isn’t a surprise to us any more that people from other countries consider Finland, and especially our pure nature, so beautiful and fascinating. 

Now that travelling within Europe and from the US is quickly picking up – and hopefully soon also from Asia – every country and city is competing over returning visitors. Everybody wishes that life returns to normal and back to what it used to be, but the last two years have also taught us something. Throughout the 21st century, tourism has been steadily growing all over the world, but the tourism flows haven’t been at all evenly distributed. There are many places, cities and attractions that have seriously suffered from too many visitors. Many inhabitants in regions that earlier had to contend with over-tourism were relieved to see fewer visitors in their yards and streets during the pandemic. They surely do not wish to go back to “normal”. 

Once again, we learnt that every cloud has a silver lining. The pause in international tourism gave us time to think about how our industry would look in the future and how we could steer it in a more sustainable direction. Today, sustainable tourism has become a norm for all national and regional tourism development and marketing organisations. We are no longer competing merely for returning visitors, but for the most sustainable growth. 

“Our vision is to be the world leader also in sustainable tourism.”

In 2019 there were over seven million registered overnight stays by international visitors in Finnish accommodation facilities. The value of tourism exports had doubled since 2000, and tourism was the second biggest service export area of the economy. Despite the fast growth, Finland has not been threatened by over-tourism. That is how we want to keep it also in the future. 

Finland has already worked for years to be a benchmark of a sustainable society. According to the latest report, Finland ranks first globally in progress across the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our vision is to be the world leader also in sustainable tourism. We have compelling reasons for that. Finland’s biggest tourist attractions are pristine nature, fresh air, pure waters and snowy landscapes, especially in the wintertime. All of those are threatened by climate change, which is proceeding in the arctic region at triple the speed compared to the rest of the world. Many of Finland’s travel products and services depend on weather conditions, making them highly vulnerable to climate change. Thus, protecting our number one asset for future generations – locals and visitors – must be our number one priority. 

Kristiina Hietasaari
Senior Director, Visit Finland