The relationship between tourism and biodiversity is multifaceted. Firstly, tourism depends directly on biodiversity. This argument concerns nature-based tourism and special interest tourism, such as safaris, whale watching and bird watching, and fishing tourism. In addition, almost all forms of tourism benefit from intact landscapes, high quality swimming waters, lush green areas, and healthy ecosystems. On the downside, tourism inevitably also decreases biodiversity through pollution, land use, habitat loss, the spread of invasive species, and acceleration of climate change. The more people travel, the greater the risks of environmental damage become.
The good news, however, is that tourism may also contribute to biodiversity protection. When the local biodiversity is a key attraction and driver of tourism, destinations and operators have a clear interest in preserving it, as biodiversity losses lead to decreased incomes. Moreover, biodiversity conservation may even generate more significant regional economic revenues than forestry or other consumptive land uses.
Visit Finland has set ambitious aims in response to growing environmental concerns:
- Finland is to be recognized as the world’s leading sustainable travel destination by 2025.
- Finland is the number one choice of responsible tourists.
- The entire Finnish travel industry becomes a messenger of sustainability.
A specific program, Sustainable Travel Finland (STF), has been launched to guide the Finnish tourism industry towards sustainability. Focus on sustainability is understandable as much of Finland’s touristic attraction is based on nature; our forests, wildlife, the lake district, Lapland and archipelago areas are unique compared to densely populated urban areas in Central Europe and Asia. It is, therefore, justified to claim that nature and biodiversity constitute major tourism attractions in Finland. Hence, Visit Finland’s current marketing slogan:
“Happiness – it’s in our nature”.Visit Finland
The first steps
BIODIFUL’s tourism team (WP3) has evaluated the role and relevance of biodiversity in the national STF program. The program includes twelve biodiversity indicators, most of which are concrete hands-on activities that provide tourism operators and destinations with practical tools ready for implementation. Examples include installating bug hotels and nesting boxes for birds, participating in restoration projects, building green roofs, and collecting litter. This grassroots approach is necessary for raising awareness of an unfamiliar phenomenon.
Moreover, it enables quick first steps towards biodiversity-respectful tourism with almost instant results; set up a feeding place for birds and get the first winged visitors within just days. The outcomes are also visible and understandable, thus easy to communicate to stakeholders and customers. In addition to concrete activities, STF’s list of biodiversity indicators also includes more far-reaching actions, such as environmental training of staff, drafting of a biodiversity program, and financing schemes. These require more time and are less visible, but they are likely to be more effective in promoting biodiversity than small stand-alone acts.
BIODIFUL’s tourism and recreation researchers aim to continue contributing to STF’s biodiversity part. The next step is to examine the first STF-approved tourism operators in two Finnish biosphere areas, the Archipelago Sea and North Carelia. The focus is on how these certified forerunners of sustainable tourism combine biodiversity and tourism in their daily business. Considering that the biosphere areas are regional models of sustainable development, this combination is expected to give insights into the future possibilities of biodiversity-respectful tourism in Finland.
The whole transformative journey
In general, the tourism industry’s current biodiversity initiatives seem anthropocentric. The focus is on business success, and biodiversity is mainly considered an essential resource with instrumental value; using the IPBES metaphor, most tourism companies are living from nature rather than living in, with or as nature. This instrumentality is acceptable, but genuinely sustainable traveling requires more profound and transformative changes. This means letting go of established ways of doing tourism business and open-mindedly reconsidering the entire business model, target markets and segments within them, and the process of value generation.
Genuinely sustainable tourism requires also broadening the scope. Traveling is a temporal and spatial process; for the tourists to spend a few exciting days at a destination, they must travel there and back again. Destinations and individual tourism operators within them face a challenge: a large share of tourism’s adverse impacts is born outside the destination, beyond their influence. Regardless of how carefully they minimize the on-site impacts, the guests’ necessary traveling to and from the destination – especially by air – causes significant environmental footprints. To give a concrete example: the benefit of using biofuel on a short snowmobile safari in Lapland is by far overruled by the tourists’ long-haul flights.
Consequently, genuinely sustainable and biodiversity-respectful tourism requires a holistic approach that scrutinizes the tourists’ entire trip.
Ecotourism provides a successful example of founding tourism on sustainability philosophy and values, genuine respect for nature, and adjusting the activities and volumes accordingly. More simple approaches run the risk of small-scale biodiversity actions falling short of the adverse impacts caused. The risk of contenting oneself with these and continuing the business as usual is apparent, commonly called greenwashing. Hence, the level of ambition and the scale of activities should rise hand-in-hand with the awareness of tourism operators and the demands of the tourists. Only then can the tourism industry convert itself from a potential threat to a supporter of biodiversity.
Clawson, M., & Knetsch, J. L. (1966). Economics of Outdoor Recreation. Johns Hopkins.
Fennell, D. (2008). Ecotourism (3rd ed.). Routledge.
IPBES (2022). Summary for Policymakers of the Methodological Assessment Report on the Diverse Values and Valuation of Nature of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Pascual, U., Balvanera, P., Christie, M., Baptiste, B., González-Jiménez, D., Anderson, C.B., Athayde, S., Barton, D.N., Chaplin-Kramer, R., Jacobs, S., Kelemen, E., Kumar, R., Lazos, E., Martin, A., Mwampamba, T.H., Nakangu, B., O’Farrell, P., Raymond, C.M., Subramanian, S.M., Termansen, M., Van Noordwijk, M., and Vatn, A. (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6522392
IPBES (2019). Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
Kokkarinen, L., Kosonen, K., Levula, E., Liljedahl, P. and Åhlström, S. (2023). Kestävän matkailun tila 2022 (In Finnish, State of Sustainable Tourism 2022). Visit Finland
Visit Finland’s Strategy 2021-2025 (In Finnish) https://www.businessfinland.fi/492562/globalassets/finnish-customers/02-build-your-network/visit-finland/julkaisut/visit-finland-strategia-2021-2025-suomi.pdf(Accessed 24 May, 2023)