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Published: 2024-04-10 Updated: 2024-04-12, 13:54

Questioning the Role of Arctification in Regional Development

NEWS During the past decade, international winter tourism has grown significantly across northernmost Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Iceland. Characteristic of this form of tourism is the spatial identification with the Arctic, which is invoked through signature experiences, such as aurora borealis hunting, dog sledging, reindeer safaris, snowmobile tours, or overnight stays in ice and glass igloos.

Text: Simon Oja

In a recent thesis, "Arctic Tourism Geographies in the Making”, author Dorothee Bohn examines the emergence of this travel industry pathway and dives into the potential of Arctic tourism for regional development in the sparsely populated Swedish and Finnish North.

New paths for regional development through ‘Arctification’

Bohn's research illuminates the concept of ‘Arctification’, a process that is rooted in the reimagination of northernmost Europe as part of the Arctic. This geographical embrace of the Arctic concerns not only tourism but also features in current regional branding, strategy making, and the profiling of higher education and research institutions. The value of associating with the Arctic lies in the region’s global geopolitical, economic and ecological significance.
 
– The fusion of global dynamics with local initiatives opens new opportunities for regional development in northern sparsely populated areas, says Dorothee Bohn. Entrepreneurship in tourism and travel businesses has initiated economic spin-offs, contributing to revitalising places and communities in northernmost Sweden and Finland.

Promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in tourism through planning

A central aspect of the thesis is that sustainable tourism development necessitates policy frameworks that offer inclusive and strategic support, enabling local actors to drive innovation and diversify the sector. Bohn highlights these issues in the example of regional development funding for public-private tourism projects and tourism firms.

Creating an environment where innovation flourishes is critical to transforming Arctic tourism into a force for community well-being

During the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly small tourism companies led by owner-managers who run several different businesses proved to be resilient. At the same time, large enterprises exclusively targeting international traveller markets required state bailouts to survive. Thus, public financial support should be directed to facilitate entrepreneurial creativity, new business models, and public sector innovations. The latter includes, for instance, redefining current labour relations and creating new forms of employment, allowing people to combine several professions and lifelong learning.

Likewise, transport connectivity across the sparsely populated North requires improvements to spur tourism development outside of major urban hubs.

– Creating an environment where innovation flourishes is critical to transforming Arctic tourism into a force for community well-being, whereby it is vital to opt for organic sectoral growth instead of industry boosterism, emphasises Dorothee Bohn.
 
This relates strongly to the issue of overtourism. Emerging destinations require forward-looking management that prioritises sustainability and extends the benefits of tourism across local communities. Concretely, responsible tourism planning should learn from the experiences of other destinations and foster a place-based approach where tourism is embedded in broader regional development initiatives. A further implication is that sustainable thinking should not only remain limited to the local level. In times of global environmental as well as socio-economic crises, development decision-makers must consider international supply and mobility chains as well as for whom tourism is accessible.

A collaborative vision for the Arctic's future

Bohn considers Arctic tourism as a catalyst for socio-economic renewal, and she calls for a collective effort among stakeholders to unlock its full potential. The thesis underlines the importance of aligning strategic plans with broader economic, environmental, and social goals and directly addressing challenges like seasonality and labour shortages.
 
– As we navigate the future of Arctic tourism, governance collaboration between policymakers, industry leaders, and local communities is crucial. At the same time, research and education hold many prospects to enhance these synergies, Bohn concludes.

About the defence

Dorothee Bohn from the Department of Geography will defend her thesis with the Swedish title: "Skapandet av arktiska geografier: Politisk ekonomi, institutionell strategisk selektivitet och aktörskap i turismutvecklingen" (English title: "Arctic Geographies in the Making: Understanding Political Economy, Institutional Strategic Selectivity, and Agency in Tourism Pathway Development").

Faculty opponent: Professor Dimitri Ioannides from the Department of Economics, Geography, Law, and Tourism; Mid Sweden University.

The defence will take place on Friday, April 12, 2024, from 13:00 to 15:00 in Lecture Hall SAM.A.280.