Is it possible for the tourism industry to get something positive out of the corona pandemic? Yes, Ruralis researchers believe, pointing to local, nature-based tourism.
Summer is upon us, and this year coronavirus is forcing most of us to take our vacations in our home country. This represents a crisis for large parts of the tourism industry worldwide – and Norway is no exception – but some companies can prosper from the situation.
The market in Norway is huge. Tourists are now increasingly looking for destinations that have not been ‘discovered’ in order to get unique nature experiences, whether it’s glacier hiking, bird watching, salmon fishing or other encounters. People are more concerned with quality than just a few years ago and are no longer as interested in queuing to gaze over a mountain top. They are also willing to pay for unique experiences, says Rita Moseng Sivertsvik of Ruralis.
She researches nature-based tourism, and together with colleague Magnar Forbord, has contributed to a recent, internationa book, Nordic Perspectives on Nature-based Tourism. One of the book’s goals is to investigate the prerequisites for sustainable business development based on people’s travels to and in nature.
More corona-friendly tourism
In these times, short-distance tourism in nature is more relevant than ever – both because we are urged to stay in our home country, and because small, dedicated companies are happy to receive smaller groups in spacious outdoor environments where the risk of infection is smaller. This meets at least some of the challenges of Covid, says Forbord.
Norway has approximately 2,000 small and medium-sized tourism companies. Before the corona hit us, many of these – in common with most of the tourism industry – focused on visits from abroad. However, researchers believe that nature-based tourism can just as easily be directed at Norwegians.
Experiences for life
These tourism companies are both creative and adaptable, and give the impression they are more than aware of the potential Norwegian market. They are concerned with sharing nature experiences that visitors will remember and at the same time take care of nature, regardless of whether the tourists are local or come from China. The unique and sustainable are prioritized over mass tourism, says Moseng Sivertsvik.
The passion for nature means that the small actors like to use themselves and their knowledge as part of the experience. Norway does not have a tradition of using a guide on trips, but with new target groups and the desire for other experiences, this is more in demand.
The target market has become wider. In addition to the fact that more and more people want extreme experiences, there are many, including families with small children, who yearn for simpler forms of outdoor life. This leads to greater variety and competence among tourists and requires a more differentiated offer, says Forbord.
Nature-based tourism is an international phenomenon, but Norway is especially well positioned. We have large and sparsely populated areas, rich in natural areas in the form of vegetation, mountains and fjords, glaciers and rivers. And the fact that we have – in contrast to many other countries – the right of public access makes nature largely accessible.
How to survive?
The question is how companies that run nature-based tourism on a small scale can become solid enough to survive. Since the companies are small, the employees often must take on many different tasks and may lack competence in certain areas. The little ones have to fight to be seen and marketing is important. It is also important to have more legs to stand on to secure income throughout the year, and therefore many do more than just tourism. They also offer services to schools and businesses and arrange weddings and other gatherings locally. Some also combine their operations with agriculture.
Common to the small players is that the job is also a passion, although of course they aim to make a living from nature-based tourism. Several founders say that they have involved the whole family to get the company going, and some have resigned from permanent jobs. It is hard work, and they take risks, says Moseng Sivertsvik.
Benefit from each other
The research shows that the actors want to work together to keep tourists in the same area for longer and believe that they can benefit from each other. The growth in nature-based tourism is important for overall value creation in the tourism industry and also leads to highly educated people moving to outlying areas.
The book Nordic Perspectives on Nature-based Tourism is published by Edward Elgar Publishers. Researchers associated with the Biotour project, funded by the Research Council of Norway, have contributed to the book. The chapters address topics such as tourism’s resource base, the market, the companies’ profile, and innovation, from a Nordic perspective.