Small-scale Tourism in Rural Areas

Rural tourism has often been considered to be a remedy for rural decline, and as a tool for creating employment and economic growth. In this Working Paper researchers’ assess challenges and potentials of rural tourism in the Nordic countries.

Rural tourism is a complicated undertaking, especially in peripheral parts of the Nordic countries. In these areas, rural decline, including depopulation and competition for labour, are major challenges that must be met. A further problem is limited attention to rural tourism research. While there is growing willingness among public stakeholders to support regional and local tourism initiatives, there is insufficient research upon which to base initiatives. This creates a situation where many funding decisions appear to be random and not based on knowledge or strategic planning. Against this background, rural tourism appears to be at a crossroads. On the one hand, promising development and positive demand circumstances open new opportunities for further development. On the other hand, a lack of strategic planning as well as short-sighted funding opportunities and general rural decline appear to jeopardize future development. Greater production and integration of knowledge into rural tourism seems to be a good step towards realizing the potential of rural tourism for sustaining rural communities.

The project on small scale tourism in the Nordic countries was realised through the Nordic Working Group on Rural Development Policy between 2009-2012. The aim of the project was to examine current research in the field, identify national trends, and assess the challenges and potential for small-scale businesses in rural areas of the Nordic states. This work generated five contributions written by researchers from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and an interactive workshop with researchers, policymakers, and tourism businesses from the Nordic Countries.

Dieter Müller from the Department of Geography and Economic History at Umeå University contributed with a short introduction of rural tourism in the Nordic Countries, which highlights challenges and potentials of rural tourism from a Nordic perspective, and a SWOT-analysis of rural tourism in Sweden. Henrik Halkier, Professor in the Tourism Research Unit at Aalborg University contributed with an SWOT-analysis of Denmark, and Thor Flognfeldt, Associate Professor in the Department of Tourism Planning and Regional Analysis, Lillehammer University College a SWOT-analysis of Norway. A team of researchers and experts, including Juho Pesonen and Noora Tahvanainen from the Centre for Tourism Studies, University of Eastern Finland, and Raija Ruusunen and Nina Vesterinen from the Working Group on Tourism, Rural Policy Committee, and Tero Taatinen from Karelia University of Applied Sciences contributed with an SWOT-analysis of Finland.