Nordic Perspectives on Nature-based Tourism

Authors Peter Fredman and Jan Vidar Haukeland discuss a nature-based tourism in a Nordic context

Fascination with nature has been expressed throughout the history of tourism. Much of the early tourism, such as the eighteenth-century conquests of the European Alps, salmon fishing in Norwegian rivers or trophy hunting in Africa had nature experiences as a key pull-factor. Nature-based tourism makes up a growing share of the modern tourism industry and following the Covid-19 pandemic, many societies experienced an increased interest for recreation in the outdoors.

The appearance of tourism as a subject in academia is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the study of nature-based tourism takes us to the crossroad between the natural and social sciences. Nature-based tourism is framed and flavored not only by socio‐economic conditions, but just as much by the natural resources in the region where it occurs and the opportunities to make use of them in a tourism context.

From the tourist’s point of view, nature can be viewed as a setting providing experiences, wellbeing, and physical exertion. From a business perspective, nature is where experiences become tradeable products through processes of commercialization. Natural resources in nature-based tourism are critically linked both with very specific properties (single places, animal species) and with landscape-level structures (ecosystems, land-use-history). The many close connections between nature and society also make local communities becoming key stakeholders in the nature-based tourism production system.

Place-based natural and cultural resources embedded in the landscape serve as meeting places between visitors and local communities, causing potential for both synergy and conflict depending on the nature of interaction and the capacity of actors and leadership. Hence, understanding the potential for innovation and sustainable regional development from nature-based tourism goes beyond the level of individual companies. It calls for a broad integrated approach where the dynamics of resources (nature, culture, landscapes, infrastructures, etc.), markets (supply and demand, customer segments), organizations (networks, managers and entrepreneurs) and products are all equally evaluated.

This is exactly what the book Nordic Perspectives on Nature-based Tourism – From place-based resources to value-added experiences sets out to do. This book provides a comprehensive study on nature-based tourism in a Nordic context, using Norway as the main locale for investigation. In a global perspective, the Nordic region is one of the prominent destinations among tourists looking for nature-based activities and experiences. Much of the region also shares long traditions of outdoor recreation practices (known as friluftsliv), including the right of public access, which highly influences opportunities for nature-based tourism today.  

The first section, Nordic and international perspectives on nature-based tourism, sets the stage by presenting some Nordic specifics for this industry in terms of landscape attributes and natural assets. This includes the legacy of friluftsliv traditions based on the Right of Public Access as well as other common concepts and values connected to openness, trust and sustainability. In this context, the place-based resources include both the local natural assets and the social and cultural abilities of local communities. This also means that sustainability concerns connected to the utilization of scarce and vulnerable resources inevitably become issues of vital importance with respect to impacts on nature and local communities. Hence, in the section Place-based resources and local communities, it is argued that nature-based tourism contributes to local community resilience across economic, social and environmental dimensions. A holistic approach also carries the idea of integrated public planning for tourism across legal borders outside and inside protected natural areas.

The Market dynamics and segments section shows contemporary tourists’ general interests in nature activities and experiences. As the demand for more specialized and sophisticated products is on the rise, there is potential for packaging and eco-certification of customized commercial provisions to meet customers’ demand. The growth in terms of volume and increased differentiation catalyzes public discourses about sustainability and further demonstrates the linkages between market developments and their impacts on local communities. The many small-scale nature-based tourism firms, described in the section Firms, creativity and innovations, combined with their dependence on interactions and networks with other actors, reflect general traits of the wider tourism industry. Yet another feature is the combination of human and business-centered goals that signifies a responsible utilization of local natural, social and cultural resources among many entrepreneurs, linking back to the sustainability and resilience aspects.

The final section of the book, Value-added experience products, illustrates the great diversity of this sector. The combination of human dedication to place and nature, playfulness and inventiveness, in addition to the appealing and diverse natural resource base, create extensive and nearly limitless opportunities for product development. The value-generating dynamics, also fueled by the application of smart mobile technologies, swiftly stimulate further product innovation. The role of nature in event design and visual staging demonstrates yet another avenue for product novelties, and the character of highly specialized product developments are illustrated with wildlife tourism experiences – reflecting another rapidly increasing nature-based tourism segment.

Nordic Perspectives on Nature-based Tourism is written for undergraduate and graduate university programs in tourism and related study fields (e.g., geography, planning, service management, hospitality, outdoor recreation) as well as natural resource-oriented programs with a human dimension orientation, such as forestry, fisheries, natural resource management, protected area management. The book also provides valuable readings for policy makers, practitioners and other professionals interested to learn more about the linkages between place-based natural resources as a point of departure and value-added experiences as the outcome of the value chain.

Peter Fredman

Jan Vidar Haukeland

This blog is based on the introductory and concluding chapters of the book
Nordic Perspectives on Nature-based Tourism – From place-based resources to value-added experiences.

Peter Fredman is a professor in Nature-based tourism at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Mid-Sweden University. Jan Vidar Haukeland is a senior researcher at the Institute of Transport Economics – Norwegian Centre for Transport Research. Both have extensive experience from research, teaching and publishing about nature-based tourism in the Nordic region.

Read chapter 1: Nature-based tourism in a Nordic context on Elgaronline here.

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