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