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Published: 2023-10-06 Updated: 2023-10-09, 08:16

Have we re-imagined nature-based tourism post COVID-19 pandemic?

NEWS Strategic funding from Arctic Centre

Pamela Bachmann-Vargas is a Postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Geography. She received funding from the Arctic Centre to help conduct three weeks of fieldwork in Abisko between 21 July and 12 August, as part of her postdoctoral research.

What did you do in your fieldwork?

– In my research, I aim to explore post-Covid-19 imaginaries of nature-based tourism in remote peripheral areas. The fieldwork activities consisted of semi-structured interviews, and participant and non-participant observations along some of the hiking trails around the STF Abisko Tourist Station, Bachmann-Vargas says.

She explains that she focused on tourists and tour operators who visit and work around the Abisko area. The interviews were conducted on the spot, but the interviewees were informed and asked their consent before.

– The aim was to gather different perspectives about the reasons for visiting Abisko, the experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic as a tourist and as tour operator, and how respondents imagine Abisko in the future, Bachmann-Vargas shares. She continues and explains that a central element of the interviews was to inquire about the respondents’ opinions on four main ideas referring to the potential changes that tourism might have faced as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic: a) “business as usual”, b) innovation and creativity, c) reflections on a better future, and d) seeking out places with spaces.

Conducting fieldwork as part of my research in a place like Abisko is quite a privilege I would say.

How was it to conduct fieldwork in Abisko?

Upon the question about how it was to conduct fieldwork in Abisko, Bachmann-Vargas says that was great for an outdoor person like herself, and that she met very inspiring people who appreciated the interviews.

– Conducting fieldwork as part of my research in a place like Abisko is quite a privilege I would say. Abisko is a great place to be for those who like outdoor activities, like me. I got to talk to very inspiring people from different countries and different backgrounds. As a nature-seeking tourist myself, I got to share experiences that some of the respondents and I had in common. Several respondents said that they had not thought about the topics I asked about, and they were grateful for the moment of reflection that the short interview provided, linking nature-based tourism and the COVID-19 pandemic.     

In what way is your fieldwork significant to the Arctic?

– The empirical case at Abisko aims to contribute to a better understanding on how tourists and tour operators are envisioning the present and future of nature-based tourism in northern Sweden, and whether the pandemic triggered more sustainable practices, Bachmann-Vargas says.

She also explains that many scientific publications have speculated about post-pandemic changes in the tourism industry, but that we still need empirical research in the matter.

– Empirical research is still needed to better understand local processes of imagination, transformation and adaptation catalyzed by the COVID-19 crisis, that may shed light on local resilience, socio-spatial implications and place-based policy making. The relevance of this case study is therefore not only for the Arctic, but for other remote peripheral areas wherein nature-based tourism is a key component of local economies.

What will happen now with your collected interviews?

– Thanks to the Arctic Centre’s strategic funds, who partly funded this activity, I got to collect qualitative data for my postdoctoral research project. The aim now is to produce one scientific article with the data collected in Abisko.

Pamela Bachmann-Vargas
Postdoctoral fellow