Sustainably balanced Arctic communities

Empowering Arctic communities to respond to demographic, social and environmental change is a prominent element of the Nordic Arctic Cooperation Programme. Under the headline PEOPLE, the programme supports research, education and competency building projects in the Arctic, as well as initiatives promoting the health, social wellbeing and prosperity of the Arctic peoples.

Local opportunities in sustainable tourism

One of the initiatives is Partnership for Sustainability: Arctic Tourism in Times of Change. The project explores the effects of tourism on Arctic communities, many of which rely on this growing sector as an important source of income and welfare. The research is focused on three themes: seasonality, urban tourism and over-tourism.

“Arctic destinations often have one strong season, either summer or winter, while visitor numbers are very low in other seasons,” says tourism researcher Outi Rantala of the University of Lapland. “During peak season, there’s risk of overtourism, which puts the local population and the local environment under pressure. In the off-season, however, the communities may have difficulties in ensuring employment and providing the necessary services to their inhabitants.”

The Arctic is typically promoted as a wilderness area, but the fact is that much of the tourism takes place in and around the region’s urban centres. The researchers are therefore exploring the opportunities in urban tourism in the Arctic, focusing in particular on the linkages to the nature-based tourism in the region’s peripheral areas. Finally, the project engages with the complex issues of over-tourism.

“Overtourism in the Arctic is limited to certain places and seasons,” says Rantala. “It can be dealt with in many ways, for instance by expanding the tourist season or guiding visitors to other destinations. Our aim is to provide more information on overtourism and its impacts in order to ensure sustainable development of Arctic tourism.”

Elderly people’s agency and inclusion

Arctic communities are facing significant demographic challenges, such as outmigration of young people from rural areas and the fast ageing of the remaining population. Meanwhile, health services are becoming increasingly privatised, which can create challenges for the provision of elderly care in sparsely populated remote areas.

“Our objective has been to study the health and wellbeing of this growing population segment in the Nordic Arctic and Arctic regions,” says Päivi Naskali, Professor in Gender Studies at the University of Lapland and project leader of Advancing Elderly People’s Agency and Inclusion in the Changing Arctic and Nordic Welfare System. “One of our key recommendations is that the State or municipalities should continue to be responsible for health care delivery in the remote and rural areas of the Arctic region.”

“In many cases, these elderly individuals have lived in their natal communities for their entire lives, deeply connected with nature and surrounded by family. Moving them into the larger towns or cities to receive elderly care might not be the right solution for them. With the changes in demography, it’s important to ensure that elderly people’s voices are heard and that they’re offered the right type of support to be able to remain active and engaged in their community.”

Related articles