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Upplyst fjällstuga under stjärnhimmel

Image: Johnér bildbyrå AB

The significance of the invisible population

Second homes, mobility, and development in sparsely populated areas

PhD project within the Industrial Doctoral School

This project is carried out in collaboration between Umeå University (the Industrial Doctoral School and the Department of Geography) and Region 10 (a collaborative organisation of 10 inland municipalities in Västerbotten and Norrbotten). The primary objective of this project is to investigate the extent, significance, and potential of second-home tourism in the region, as well as its impact on local and regional development.

Doctoral student and supervisor

Amrei Aubrunner
Doctoral student
Roger Marjavaara
Associate professor

Project overview

Project period:

2023-08-21 2027-11-21


Industrial Doctoral School, 60 percent

Region 10 (6 out of 10 municipalities), 40 percent

Funding from Region Västerbotten och Region Norrbotten

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Geography

Research area

Human geography

Project description

In recent decades, rural and sparsely populated areas have experienced a general structural transformation leading to population decline, unfavorable age structure, and challenges in maintaining good public and commercial services. These factors risk reinforcing each other and making these places even more unfavorable for permanent residence. However, rural and sparsely populated areas remain attractive for purposes other than permanent residence, such as tourism.

In Region 10 (Arjeplog, Arvidsjaur, Sorsele, Malå, Norsjö, Storuman, Lycksele, Vilhelmina, Dorotea, and Åsele municipalities), there were a total of 16,940 registered second homes in 2019, representing an increase of 15.3 % over five years. The increase in Västerbotten during the same period was 8.9 %, and in Sweden, it was 5.5 %. Several of these municipalities have successful tourist destinations and rural areas where second-home tourism is growing rapidly.

Second-home tourism is one of the largest forms of tourism and can be seen as an intermediate between permanent residence and hypermobile tourists. Second-home tourism generates large volumes of overnight stays, sometimes significantly more than hotels, cottage villages, and hostels. Furthermore, second-home tourists invest in properties at the destination, distinguishing them from traditional tourists. To some extent, second-home tourism is also the beginning of a migration movement, which benefits the peripheral areas.

Second-home tourism can, therefore, be seen as a link between the temporary forms of mobility (tourism) and the permanent opposite (migration). From a rural and sparsely populated perspective, one can argue that this form of mobility is one of the few indicators showing that these areas are indeed attractive — not as places for permanent migration but certainly for temporary residence, such as second-home tourism.

Previous research shows that second homes have varying levels of utilization based on their relative location and characteristics. However, knowledge is limited regarding the extent and significance of this phenomenon, especially considering housing forms that are typically not included in the concept of second homes, such as caravans, RVs, and apartments. By including new types of second homes in the project and studying utilization rates and the local economic impact, this project can contribute to a deeper understanding of this phenomenon's economic effects and significance for local and regional development.

Latest update: 2024-03-04