Indigenous Tourism

In recent posts I have been talking about the Sami, a people who traditionally inhabit the northern areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland and a small part of Russia,  and their history, culture and involvement in reindeer herding.  Now I would like to look at their involvement in tourism.

The sub-segment of indigenous tourism is defined as the ‘indigenous culture, traditions and heritage forming the basis for tourism development.’

Indigenous control is an important factor when considering indigenous tourism, these control factors include limiting tourists use and access when regarding time and place. These limitations will allow the indigenous people to retain some control over the development of tourism but to also develop sustainable tourism.

Many western tourists are looking for authentic experiences among the Sami people, their primary motivator for travel is authenticity with the possibility to develop a personal and semi-spiritual relationship. There is often difficulty when discussing tourism relating to “endangered cultures” such as the Sami. If the development of tourism causes discomfort amongst the Sami it could lead to problems but on the other hand attractions without some commercialisation would attract hardly any visitors. For this reason and because the Sami have assimilated into modern society visitors are often offered staged attractions.

Even with the risks of tourism development many Sami are attracted to the idea of tourism, especially when it is becoming increasingly difficult to make a living from traditional methods such as reindeer herding. Sami people who have adjusted to the role of tourism are able to combine tourism with reindeer herding. This allows the Sami to spread information about the Sami and their culture to visitors.

Indigenous Tourism

Consumers are increasingly looking for new experiences and adventure outside of the ordinary products and services. Stories can help to improve the power of experience and can complete a service or product by giving it a deeper meaning and a more memorable experience. These stories can come from historic happenings or inspired by myths from the Arctic nature, local culture and finally the traditions and beliefs in Finnish Lapland. Being able to use these stories in tourism in a creative way while presented in a suitable place can lead to authentic experiences. Foreign visitors come to Lapland in order to experience new cultures. By being offered information and traditions based on cultural heritage can help create an experience that exceeds the customer’s expectations.

There is a tourist demand for tourism involving Sami culture that may even grow in the future. Sami culture is fragile and tourism may jeopardise the indigenous culture and harm the environment in which the Sami live. It is important to remember that Sami tourism does face some challenges and with an increased research into the opportunities and risks they will be able to develop a flourishing and sustainable industry for both host and guest.

For more about indigenous cultures you can see my posts about Australian Aboriginals and their role in tourism.

The Sami of Lapland

Sami is an indigenous culture that live in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and a small part of Russia and is known as Sapmi, or more commonly Lapland. They are thought to be the first people to reenter Europe after the last ice age some time around 8000 BC.

The Sami of Lapland

Sami Flag created in 1986

After the 15th century the Sami faced increasing pressure from the countries in which they inhabited. It was at this time that reindeer husbandry, which had so far been limitedly practiced, became their main source of hunting. This led to a decrease in numbers of wild reindeer and all reindeer became more or less tamed with each having an owner.

In the last 200 years there have been many changes in the surrounding countries that have directly effected the Sami. In 1826, the Norwegian border was established and the Sami were no longer allowed to roam freely as they once had. They could still cross between Finland and Sweden until 1940.

The Sami experienced the most pressure in Norway during the first half of the 20th century when the government invested money to wipe out Sami culture in an attempt to make Norwegian language and culture universal. In Finland and Sweden the efforts were less dramatic but with increased development in the north led to a weakening of status and economy for the Sami.

Conflicts continued through the 20th century with the proposed hydroelectric dam in Alta in northern Norway which would flood the Sami village of Masi. The protests against the construction had a large impact on the nation’s politics and were successful in saving the town but construction continued, this time with less environmental and cultural impacts. During the protests the first unofficial Sami flag was used which led to the introduction of a second design in 1986.

Today, reindeer still play a central part in Sami culture but their economic value is decreasing and they look to other avenues. With the increased pressure to assimilate to modern culture only nine Sami languages or dialects have survived to the present day and they are still threaten. In recent years there have been positive developments in the preservation of Sami culture with the introduction of the Sami Parliament and a National day on 6th February.

This post continues with the Sami’s involvement in Indigenous Tourism