VisitSápmi: Promoting an Authentic Sámi Experience Through Sustainable Tourism
By Lennart Pittja
VisitSápmi: Dispelling Stereotypes and Empowering Sámi Communities
VisitSápmi is the Sámi initiative to create and develop sustainable tourism in the land of Sápmi, in northern Scandinavia. Meeting the Sámi people and experiencing their traditional lifestyle is often considered by foreign visitors to be one of the most interesting and things to do in Scandinavia. As such, Scandinavia is frequently promoted with images of Sápmi – Sámi people in traditional clothes, reindeer, lávvu, and traditional food, for example.
A traditional lávvu, a temporary dwelling used by the Sámi people of Northern Scandinavia
Sápmi (or Lapland) has long attracted visitors from all over the world, and today it is visited by millions of tourists every year. In spite of this bustling tourist activity, and even though Sámi traditions are frequently portrayed through various media, today we can see very few successful Sámi tourism companies. This means that the images of the Sámi people are being put on display in the worldwide market, but the revenue from tourism ends up in other people’s pockets. The Sámi community wants to change this, and wants to be more involved with decision making in the Swedish tourism industry.
From a Sámi perspective, we want to share our knowledge. We want people to visit us, learn from us, and to become ambassadors to the rest of the world. We want to develop an efficient and responsible tourism model that will ensure that revenue from tourism is channeled back into Sámi communities. We want to shape tourism into a more respectful, more sustainable industry than what it is today. We’d also like to coordinate partnership with organizations and networks which share our belief that sustainability is the right path for the future.
Sápmi Experience Quality Mark: Ensuring a Genuine Experience
Quality, sustainability, safety and credibility are the guiding principles for companies awarded the Sápmi Experience Quality Mark. Companies that have been awarded with this mark demonstrate a holistic approach to the Sápmi living environment, are knowledgeable about this region and its residents, and can offer professional arrangements to people visiting Sápmi. Visitors can be sure that companies bearing the Sápmi Experience Quality Mark offer genuine Sámi experiences and coordinate activities with local hosts.
Tourism activities recognized by the Sápmi Experience Quality Mark are based on the common heritage of the Sámi living environment. Sámi tourism must be conducted in a way that is sustainable in the long term. This means that tourism must be accepted and established, culturally and socially, in Sámi society. Furthermore, hosts must be able to communicate Sámi values and their way of life to visitors. Sápmi Experience approved operators strive for social, cultural, ecological and commercial sustainability.
They are companies that respect the integrity of the Sámi culture and work to prevent its objectification. These companies also work constructively with other businesses, public agencies and organizations that respect the values of the Sámi tourism sector in developing Sápmi as a successful destination.
Sápmi Tourism Past and Present: Creating a Sustainable Future
From a Sámi reindeer herding perspective, tourism is mainly another intrusion and problem. Activities such as forestry, mining, hydro-power damming, wind mill plants, carnivores, and tourism have created substantial problems which today threaten the very survival of reindeer herding.
Since reindeer herding in Sápmi is based on the natural migration of the reindeer, the Sámi people don’t occupy all of the land all the time. Generally we are in the mountains of western Sápmi during the summer season, and are in the forest areas of the east during the winter. If tourism is planned and performed in cooperation with and respect for Sámi needs and requirements, tourism can be a non-threatening industry to Sámi culture and land.
Therefore, one objective of VisitSápmi is to help reindeer herding communities to create a tourism management plan, which will help these communities understand how best to use their land, and how to decide what types of developments might help or harm the Sámi land and culture. This way, they will know what prospective tourism activities to accept, and what to protest against.
The Sámi people recognize that we cannot stop the tourism industry, and that therefore we must get proactively involved with its development to ensure that benefits are received by the Sámi. We must demonstrate that Sámi tourism can be a positive thing for the community; it can help to spread knowledge about Sápmi – the land and its people – and can generate income which will help preserve traditional know-how and values.
Latest News from VisitSápmi
While VisitSápmi is currently launching the Sápmi Experience program, the first companies in Sápmi have already been approved! Within 5 years, we hope this will be a well-known brand within Sámi tourism, with at least 75 service providers expected to be approved from across the Sápmi region.
We will soon launch our website for visitors, which will highlight approved Sámi service providers, share Sámi knowledge, and inspire people to choose sustainable tourism options during their visit. We will also provide helpful information about travel in Sápmi, and suggestions on what to do when visiting the region.
We are also in the process of creating marketing partnerships with both national and regional tourism partners. The Sápmi Experience will be an important part of the Scandinavian brand, but in a more credible way, avoiding portrayal of Sámi tourism with stereotypes. Our common goal is to promote Sápmi with a focus on quality, sustainability, safety and credibility.
All photos by Carl-Johan Utsi/cjutsiphoto.se
About the Author: Lennart Pittja
Lennart Pittja grew up in a reindeer herding family in the Unna Tjerusj Sámi community. At 25 years old, Lennart founded his tourism company, Vägvisaren/Pathfinder-Lapland. The idea was to offer genuine Sámi experiences to visitors, and also to attract guests who wanted more than just a two-hour visit to a Sámi camp. After interviewing elderly Sámi people, Lennart learned more on how the Sámi traditionally used reindeer as pack-animals during both winter and summer. Four years later, the first reindeer supported trek took place – this is still to this day one of Lennart’s greatest and proudest moments in his career. More trips followed, and over the years guests from all over the world have experienced the springtime migration, reindeer sled expeditions or reindeer treks. Pathfinder-Lapland was one of the first 12 companies approved with the Nature’s Best quality label, and in 2004 was awarded the best eco-tourism company in Sweden. The Pathfinder-Lapland trip has been chosen among National Geographic Traveler’s “50 Tours of a Lifetime”, and BBC Books’ “Journeys To Take Before You Die”, as well as being featured in Lonely Planet among many other publications. Lennart currently works for VisitSápmi, and still strongly believes that sustainable tourism is an important way to spread knowledge, create local development, and to preserve traditional Sámi knowledge for future generations. Lennart lives in Gällivare – a small town in the north part of Sweden with his 3 daughters.
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