Nutti Sámi Siida Leads the Way for Responsible Development of Indigenous Ecotourism in Swedish Sápmi

My experience with Nutti Sámi Siida has been a dream come true. My interest in ecotourism began while I was studying Scandinavian studies, geography, and tourism at universities in Germany and Sweden. During my research, I observed that travelers today are ever-more fascinated by the uniqueness and distinctiveness of indigenous cultures, as well as by the often stunning natural environments where these cultures reside (Zeppel 2006, Notzke 2006, Hinch and Butler 2007, Butler and Hinch, 2007).

However, while tourism is spread to many different geographic areas, it often happens that these areas are indigenous peoples’ inhabited homelands. This type of touristic encroachment has happened, for example, in Sápmi in northern Scandinavia, which is the traditional homeland of the Sámi people (the indigenous people of Fennoscandinavia).

Another issue that has arisen since indigenous tourism has gained popularity in recent years is that there are sometimes cases in which people who are not members of an indigenous community may exploit the touristic appeal of a particular culture. For example, there have been instances where people who are not Sámi have showcased the Sámi people and culture in an inaccurate way, thus creating and spreading untrue stereotypes. This is sometimes referred to as “Disneyfication.”

Considering the subject of Sámi tourism, I noticed that there was a paucity of knowledge regarding these important issues, and that ecotourism in the Sápmi region had been scarcely addressed. Thus, I decided to write my Master of Arts paper on the subject of “Indigenous Ecotourism in Swedish Lapland.” I contacted several Sámi tourism entrepreneurs in Swedish Sápmi about my plan, and requested a visit to their businesses so that I could experience Sámi tourism first hand, and could distribute my questionnaires to their guests. One of these Sámi tourism companies was Nutti Sámi Siida, based in Jukkasjärvi in the far north of Swedish Lapland.

Nutti Sámi Siida invited me to join them in Jukkasjärvi, and I remained there from December 2007 until March 2008. My experience during this time is one that I will never forget; the people, the reindeer, and the natural environment struck me deeply and would later draw me back without hesitation.

The Story of Nutti Sámi Siida

Nutti Sámi Siida is a Sámi tourism enterprise situated in the village of Jukkasjärvi in Sweden. The enterprise is owned by Nils-Torbjörn Nutti, a reindeer herder from Saarivuoma Sámi village, and Carina Pingi from Gabna Sámi village. During one particularly bad winter in the pastures, starvation of the reindeer forced Nils and Carina to move their reindeer to corrals and feed them there. The high costs of feeding the reindeer caused Nils and Carina to come up with an additional source of income. So, in the winter of 1996 they invited visitors to the corrals; these guests paid for their unique experience, and also helped with caring for the reindeer.

This creative idea of combining reindeer husbandry with tourism led to the foundation of Nils and Carina’s tourism enterprise in 1997. Their new tourism venture worked together closely with the famous Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi from the very beginning, and is still today the Icehotel’s main supplier of Sámi tourism activities. All products offered by Nutti Sámi Siida are based on nature and the Sámi culture, and especially on activities with the reindeer. Opportunities and activities with Nutti Sámi Siida are diverse. Among other things they include reindeer sledding, visits to a reindeer corral, lasso throwing, tasting Sámi food, touring the area, opportunities to see and purchase traditional handicrafts, and education about Sámi culture and livelihoods.

Nutti Sámi Siida’s Contributions to Swedish Ecotourism

Nutti Sámi Siida is a member of the Ecotourism Society of Sweden and an approved operator of
Nature’s Best Sweden. All of our reindeer sledding tours have met the Nature’s Best criteria and have been certified. Moreover, Nutti Sámi Siida received the Grand Travel Ecotourism Award for Swedish ecotourism in 2011. The following accolade was given by the judges of the award program:

“Nutti Sámi Siida wins the award for its long-term and patient work in uniting the Sámi culture with the global traveller’s quest for genuine and modern experiences. The concept has not just been a successful ambassador for Sweden’s Sámi population, but has also created attraction value and promoted one of our biggest tourism icons, the Ice Hotel.”

Nutti Sámi Siida has also been awarded the jury declared Indigenous Tourism and Biodiversity Website Award 2010. Nutti Sámi Siida is the only company offering reindeer sledding tours through woods, across frozen lakes and rivers, and even over the tundra. On these tours guests get to handle their own reindeer, while driving the sled in a standing position. These tours, featuring the traditional way of life and transportation in Swedish Sápmi, are truly unique experiences that visitors cannot get anywhere else.

Sámi Ecotourism at Its Best

Since returning to Jukkasjärvi in 2010 to work at Nutti Sámi Siida as the sales and booking manager, it has felt like a long time dream has come true. I now get to work in Sámi ecotourism, which I care strongly about, and every day I work hard to contribute to the development of Sámi ecotourism in a responsible way. I am truly grateful to work for Nutti Sámi Siida.

One of the challenges we face is that many people are not really aware of what Sámi tourism means. To address this problem, in January 2011 our team from Nutti Sámi Siida traveled to London together with VisitSápmi to participate in a travel fair, and to speak about new developments in Sámi tourism. We at Nutti Sámi Siida, together with our friends at VisitSápmi aim to spread its true meaning to people around the world. We also cooperate with other Sámi entrepreneurs in the region in order to make Sámi tourism products more accessible, and able to portray the magnificent land of Sápmi in a sustainable way.

We aim to stop the improper use of Sámi culture and to get rid of harmful stereotypes. We want visitors to experience and encounter true, pure Sápmi in both the winter and summer seasons, guided by real outdoor experts: the Sámi people. This is Sámi ecotourism at its best. Sámi hosts and ecotourism operators, together with mindful visitors, can contribute to the benefit of local communities. By participating in responsible ecotourism activities in Sápmi, visitors can help to conserve the natural and cultural environment within which local enterprises operate and on which Sámi ecotourism is all about.

About the Author: Katja Bechtloff

Katja BechtloffI was born in Germany, and studied at the University of Greifswald, and completed Scandinavian studies and geography with tourism as the main orientation. During the semester breaks, I traveled to Sweden in order to learn the language and to gain work experience in tourism. In 2006, I went to Östersund and Vålådalen in Sweden, working as an intern at ETOUR (European Tourism Research Institute) in Östersund and at Vålådalens Fjällstation. I then decided to write my Master of Arts paper on Sámi Ecotourism in Swedish Lapland. As part of my research, I spent 4 month at Nutti Sámi Siida and were taken out to the work with the reindeer – experiences that I will never forget and I will always be grateful for.

I am now working at Nutti Sámi Siida, the most inspiring workplace, as the sales and booking manager. I am very proud to work for Nutti Sámi Siida and hope to contribute to an ethical development of Sámi ecotourism in Sápmi – Sámi eco adventures. I live in the town of Kiruna, 17 km west of Jukkasjärvi, together with my boyfriend.

VisitSápmi: Promoting an Authentic Sámi Experience Through Sustainable Tourism

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.

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.


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.

ecoDestinations Scandinavia

From unique traditional foods to cutting-edge green technologies, to amazing natural wonders from across the region, Scandinavia offers a Smörgåsbord of eco-travel and adventure opportunities! Check out the ecoDestinations Scandinavia feature, and Explore various opportunities available for travelers and destinations from around the world, and support our efforts to protect and promote amazing travel experiences. Share your photos, stories and tips, and spread the word!

Yurt to Yurt Travel with Mongolian Nomads

Yurts are all the rage these days, with posh camping (glamping) sites springing up all over Europe. You are probably familiar by now with the yurt concept – rounded wooden structures, canvas covered, comfortable, spacious, more like a home than a tent. It’s no wonder they have converted many an ardent anti-camper. Easily dismantled and moved (in theory), Mongolian yurts evolved as the home of choice for the nomads of Central Asia. In Mongolia, one of the regions yurts originally hail from, an innovative foundation called Ger to Ger (or ‘Yurt to Yurt’) is working with nomadic families to invite adventurous soles to discover their world.

Since setting up in 2005, Ger to Ger have worked with dozens of Mongolian nomadic herder groups and their communities to develop a travel network of nomadic trekking, horse riding and 4×4 routes through the Mongolian steppe, taking you literally from Ger to Ger, staying with host families and sharing their way of life. It’s possibly as close as the modern adventure traveller will get to understanding life as a nomad. North, South, East and West, new trails are continuously being coordinated with the local communities. Check out their website for a full list:

For those less interested in being continuously on the move as the ‘nomadic’ lifestyle dictates, the agency have helped local community groups set up a series of cultural and homestay programs allowing you a rare insight into the local life and customs, including, for example, a trip that offers the chance to spend a week learning to train Kazakh eagles in Bayan Ulgii province. Here, Mongolian Kazakhs maintain a 2000-year old tradition of training female Golden Eagles to hunt foxes, rabbits, owls and even small wolves, and you will learn just how it’s done.

That might not be to everyone’s tastes, but is certainly going to be memorable, as would opportunities in different communities to, among other things, learn the language, work with horses, become a Mongolian archer, or discover embroidery and felt making techniques.

Ger to Ger is a unique travel foundation and social enterprise which takes an innovative approach to mobilize, train and support rural communities to develop sustainable livelihoods through community tourism.

Through tourism incomes, they say that rural nomadic herder groups and their communities are developing an understanding that they are custodians of nomadic culture and heritage, and guardians of local environment (as it becomes an income asset). The results are certainly tangible. One nomadic herder’s testimony mirrors that of many others: “Our household income has increased. So now, I can pay my daughter’s tuition. I have learned many things during the training and project.” (Mr. Chimiddorj)

Travelling to Mongolia to discover the origins of the yurt will certainly leave you with a different perspective on life, and gives you the chance to support others in their fight for a sustainable future in this brave new world.