Kumilautta koskessa, lautan kyydissä ihmisiä kypärät päässä

Respon­sible tourism benefits businesses, local commu­nities and tourists

Ethical Tourism Recovery in Arctic Commu­nities  -project (ETRAC) looked at how the tourism sector could recover from the pandemic. In particular, the aim was to identify how to promote ethical tourism. One of the objec­tives of the project was to provide infor­mation on ethical tourism etiquette and practices to tourists who may not be familiar with it. Ethical tourism is all about not harming nature or people and not posing any risk to tourists themselves, others or the desti­nation. In addition, ethical tourism also applies to service providers. How can they avoid causing damage to nature, local people or the environment?

What is ethical tourism?

During the project, we started to think about what respon­sible tourism is. How does it relate to ethical and sustai­nable tourism? According to the UN, sustai­na­bility has three basic pillars: ecolo­gical, economic and social. However, these three are not enough and there is another pillar: cultural sustai­na­bility. It is culture that deter­mines how we understand the other three basic principles. Therefore, the concept of cultural sensi­tivity became a key tool for looking at respon­sible tourism.

In the project, we conducted a survey to find out how small businesses in particular have survived the difficult pandemic period. In the survey, we focused on how ethics is taken into account in the coping processes. Although ethics is not seen as a compe­titive advantage in tourism, many entrepre­neurs still consi­dered it as one of the guiding principles of their business. However, in the future, it is expected that ethics will play an increa­singly important role in tourism marketing. This is because younger genera­tions are becoming more aware of environ­mental issues, for example.

Ethical tourism benefits us all

In the tourism sector in general, relia­bility and quality of service have been identified as key compe­titive factors. Relia­bility is a key aspect of respon­si­bility, ethics and sustai­na­bility. In the tourism industry, relia­bility consists of honesty, social skills and friend­liness, courtesy and going above and beyond customer expectations. 

To be honest, an entrepreneur must keep his promise to customers about the quality of the service. Social skills and friend­liness include commu­nicating effort­lessly with a variety of customers, regardless of their gender, age, religion, ethnicity or physical limita­tions. In the context of the production of services, courtesy means that customers are respected and that they can reciprocate by respecting the service provider. In addition, the company must exceed the expec­ta­tions, aspira­tions and standards of its customers. The company has to give customers more choice and oppor­tu­nities than they can expect or hope for in order to increase their comfort.

The general principles outlined above must be combined with cultural sensi­tivity and hence ethics in order to provide sustai­nable services for the tourists of the future. More attention needs to be paid to the impact of tourism at local level. Ways must be found to genuinely involve local people in the development of tourism. In the ETRAC webinars, examples of this were given by Scottish companies, among others. 

In Finland, too, there have been good experiences of how using local people as guides has added value to tourism and at the same time raised local self-esteem. For example, story­telling in nature tourism services has provided job oppor­tu­nities for locals. This has also brought nature tourism and cultural tourism closer together, so that they need not be seen as separate categories of tourism, but as mutually supportive.

When tourism takes into account both environ­mental and cultural values and respects them in the produc­ti­sation of services, tourism becomes respon­sible, sustai­nable and ethical. It benefits businesses, locals and tourists alike.

Interested in ethical tourism? You may find more infor­mation about ETRAC outcomes in https://shapingethicaltourism.eu/.


Tarja Kupiainen, Principal Lecturer, Karelia University of Applied Sciences

Photo: Anne Nygård / Unsplash