Over the years, tourism has become one of the most important economic sectors in Finnish Lapland. Animals have played a very important role in supporting this development. Animal-based activities are not only very popular among tourists, but also one of the reasons for visiting northern Finland. Furthermore, animals such as sled dogs, reindeer, and Finnhorses have become an important branding element of Lapland and other Nordic destinations.
Animal welfare as a criterion for responsible tourism
We have created three guides aiming to facilitate the process of evaluating animal welfare in tourism in Finland. Their focus is on three animal species: sled dogs, reindeer, and horses. The guides are highly relevant at a time when animal welfare in tourism is being pushed forward due to consumer demand. While many tourists feel that close interaction with animals is an exciting way of spending a holiday, they also are aware of the negative impacts that tourism can have on animals. As a result, animal welfare has become a critical criterion used by tour operators to select their suppliers.
Evaluating animal welfare in Finnish tourism
The guides provide a group of specific themes and focused questions to evaluate the welfare of sled dogs, reindeer and horses involved in tourism operations. In doing so, the guides recognized the nature of these animal species with different welfare needs. They also draw attention to their welfare in relation to the working environment and conditions shaped by the tourism industry. Indeed, the guides aim to help animal-based tourism companies, destination marketing companies, tour operators, and other stakeholders to identify the issues that need to be considered to guarantee the welfare of these three animal species.
These guides build a solid foundation for the future development of animal welfare criteria for auditing systems, certification, or other similar assessment tools focusing on dogs, reindeer and horses as a tourism working animals. The guides are available in both English and Finnish language. To access the guides click on the links below.
Last May, Animal Tourism Visit Finland visited Lýtingsstaðirin Horse Farm. The farm is situated in Skagafjörður, in the North of Iceland. Evelyn and Sveinn, the owners of the farm, are strongly committed to animal welfare and the preservation of cultural heritage. Indeed, they do not only have hundred of horses, but also traditional Icelandic turf houses and stables. Evelyn and Sveinn see their horses as a big part of their life. Their philosophy is based on breeding horses that are reliable, well trained and lovingly cared for.
The turf stables give an inside view of how horses were kept in the past. Visitors can also see a display of old tools, tack and other items connected with horses and farming. As Evelyn pointed out, they want their guest to learn about Iceland, Icelandic people and their horses. Evelyn want to focus on small groups and the idea to offer services with a personal touch.
In the video below, Evelyn Ýr Kuhne from Lýtingsstaðirin Horse Farm tells more about their farm, tourism services and animal welfare practices.
The conference track on animals and tourism invited discussions on the interaction between people and animals in tourism settings. As such, it aimed to draw attention to the growth of animal-based tourism activities, the spectrum of tourists’ perceptions of animal attractions and examples of poor and good practice.
There were six presentations in the track. Three of them were delivered by Animal Tourism Finland researchers. Indeed, Tarja Salmela, Mikko ÄijäläandJ.C. García-Rosell presented a paper titled “Insights into the Certification of Animal Welfare in Tourism”. The presentation was based on the results presented in the report “Quality Monitoring Practices in Animal-Based Tourism”. In his presentation “Animal Agency in Tourism: Sled dogs in Finnish Lapland”, Mikko Äijälä discussed the role and agency of sled dogs in a tourism context. J.C. García-Rosell and Prof. Philip Hancock (Essex Business School) presented a paper titled “Christmas Tourism and the Cultivation and Symbolism of Lapland’s Reindeer”. The paper offers some reflections on the emergence of the Lapland reindeer as an economic resource, both as a carnally appropriated raw material, and as a mythical beast of Christmas folklore.
Prof. Susanna Curtin presented a paper titled “Morally torn but aesthetically persuaded: Why zoos are still attractive”. Her presentation drew attention to the current attitudes of tourists towards animal-based attractions such as zoos and marine parks. Rie Usui (Hiroshima University) delivered a presentation called “Investigating animal ethics and wildlife management issues at a nature-based tourism setting”. Her presentations offers moral reflections on current wildlife management practices implemented in Yakushima Island, Japan. Also Clare Jenkinson (ABTA Senior Destinations & Sustainability Manager) took part in the track by given a presentation on ABTA policies and actions concerning animal-based tourism. If you would like to read more about the presentations included in the track, please check out the conference proceedings.
Sustainability in practice: TUI and ABTA
In the conference, there was also a track focusing on practical implementation of sustainability. TUI and ABTA were two of the tourism organizations represented in this track. Clare Jenkinson (Senior Destinations & Sustainability Manager, ABTA) offered an overview of the work done by ABTA concerning sustainability issues. She also emphasized the role of partnerships with destination governments in promoting more sustainable practices. Similarly, Jane Ashton (Director of Sustainable Development, TUI)talked about how TUI is tackling sustainability in a globalized tourism industry. She drew especial attention to TUI sustainability strategy for 2020 “Better Holidays, Better World” and how it has been driven by company values, investors, consumers and other stakeholders.
Visit to ABTA
After the conference, Animal Tourism Finland headed to London to meet Hugh Felton (Senior Sustainable Tourism Executive) and Clare Jenkinson (Senior Destinations & Sustainability Manager) at the ABTA headquarters. The meeting was an excellent opportunity for sharing experiences on animal-based tourism. Indeed, we were able not only to tell about our work in Lapland, but also to familiarize ourselves with ABTA’s initiatives. One of them is The Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism, which are available to ABTA Members and their suppliers. So, if your company is doing business with an ABTA member, you can have access to these guidelines. You just have to ask your ABTA client to make them available to you.
The ABTA Animal welfare guidelines consist of six manuals which provide a set of minimum requirements designed to assist in improving animal welfare as well as phasing out poor practice. For animal-based tourism companies in Lapland, the manuals focusing on working animals and wildlife viewing are the most interesting ones. For example, the manual on working animals includes some welfare criteria for sled dogs. Through the animal welfare guidelines, ABTA aims to make sure that animals used in tourism are treated humanely, with respect and in accordance with transparent and robust animal welfare standards.
This blog post introduces a company case of responsible animal-based tourism from Kuusamo, Finland. The post offers a short interview with Sanna Kallunki. She is one of the owners of Ruska Laukka. The company is situated in Ronivaara farm (Kuusamo), close to Ruka Ski Resort. Ruska Laukka is one of the 11 companies participating in the project “Animals and Responsible Tourism”. In the interview, Sanna talks about her company, company values and passion for Finnhorses. She tells about their variety of horse services.
Indeed, Ruska Laukka offers not only horseback riding programs, but also riding lessons and social pedagogic horse activities. In the interview, Sanna stresses the importance of animal welfare in their business operations. For example, their horses live in field shelters and work no more than a specific number of daily working hours. Sanna also tells about their interest in promoting biodiversity and the natural environment. Ruska Laukka’s riding paths go through beautiful forest and field pastures. Ruska Laukka has been approved by the Equestrian Federation of Finland. The interview was conducted by JC García-Rosell. Date: June 15, 2017.
Last May, Animal Tourism Visit Finland visited Salka Whale Watching in Húsavík, Iceland. Salka Whale Watching is a family owned tourism company. It takes visitors to see whales, puffins and other wildlife on traditional oak boats. The company is strongly committed to sustainability and responsible tourism practices. Indeed, Salka is one of the 12 IceWhale operators operating in Iceland. As an IceWhale operator Salka follows IceWhale code of conduct for responsible whale watching. The company has also been a key supporter of the “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us”campaign which has aimed to take whale meat off the menu for tourists. As a joint project between IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) andIceWhale(the Association of Icelandic Whale Watchers), the campaign “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us”, has been around since summer 2010. As a result of this campaign, no restaurant in Húsavík serves whale meat nowadays.
Húsavík is well-known for being one of the best places in the world to see whales. Indeed, Skjálfandi Bay, where Húsavík is located, is a plankton- rich area. No wonder why whale watching in Iceland started in this small town. Due to this long history and high percentage of whales, Húsavík deserves to be called “the whale capital of Iceland”. During the visit, Animal Tourism Finland was able to learn more about Salka’s operations and their responsible approach to whale watching. The visit was crowned with a whale watching tour on Salka’s oat boat “Fanney”. The tour was a great opportunity for experiencing Salka’s whale watching practices in action.
In the video below, Loes de Heus from Salka tells more about their services, customers and responsible whale watching practices.
In the video below, Ranua Zoo’s Curator Mari Heikkilä tells briefly about EAZA membership, its benefits and how it contributes to animal welfare. She also discusses the challenge of measuring and assessing animal welfare in practice. Finally, she explains what other animal welfare certifications could learn from EAZA.
Insights into quality certifications including animal welfare criteria
One of the objectives of the project “Animals and Responsible Tourism” was to examine quality standards including animal welfare criteria. To that end, we conducted an evaluation of a wide range of both national and international certifications and quality labels. Furthermore, we interviewed five certified animal-based tourism service providers. The service providers interviewed operate in Canada, Iceland, Finland and Sweden. They offer services such as whale watching, dog sledding and horseback riding. The study helps understand how animal welfare is considered in existing tourism quality standards. It also offers insights into the benefits of these standards for the operation of animal-based tourism companies. The results of the study can be found in the report “Quality monitoring practices in animal-based tourism” (see below).
In the video below, Tarja Salmela-Leppänen offers an overview of the content and main highlights of the report. The video is meant to serve as an introduction to the report.
This post includes a short interview with Sveinn H. Guðmundsson – Elding’s Quality and Environmental Manager. I met Sveinn during my visit to Iceland in early May. We talked about responsible whale watching and the role of environmental certifications and labels in promoting it. In fact, Elding – adventures at sea follows EarthCheck and Blue Flag’s standards along with IceWhale’s guidelines. The company has also been strongly committed to the “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us” campaign which has aimed to take whale meat off the menu for tourists. As a joint project between IFAW(International Fund for Animal Welfare) and IceWhale (the Association of Icelandic Whale Watchers), the campaign “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us,” has been around since summer 2010.
Supporting research and responsible tourism practices
In addition to these standards and guidelines, Elding takes part in international cooperation on the future of whale watching. The company has also strong cooperation with marine biologists and wildlife researchers . Sveinn also mentioned that Elding is the first and only environmentally certified whale watching company in Iceland. According to Sveinn environmental certifications are an useful tool for managing Elding’s operations in a responsible way.
Elding also takes seriously its educational role in tourism. During the tours, Elding’s guides not only explain about the whales, but also how toutists themselves can support responsible tourism practices. For example, they make tourists aware that whale meat is not part of Icelandic traditional gastronomy. The campaign “Meet Us Don´t Eat Us,” has actually contributed to the decrease of whale meat among tourists.
During my visit to Iceland, I joined once more a whale watching tour with Elding. It was my second time. We were able to see minke whales, dolphins, puffins and other birds. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a shot of the minke whale. They were to fasts for me. Nevertheless, the dolphins stayed with us for a while.
Sveinn H. Guðmundsson will be one of the speakers in this year’sLapland Tourism Parliament. The event will take place in Rovaniemi at the University of Lapland on September 21-22, 2017. So you may have the possibility to meet Sveinn in person and share some thoughts with him.
Exploring Iceland is a tour operator selling Iceland as a destination. Among their services, the company offers horseback riding tours with Icelandic horses. During my visit to Iceland in early May, I had the opportunity to visit this Icelandic tourism company. I met Steinunn Guðbjörnsdóttir (Owner and Managing Director) and Meike Witt (Sales and Product Manager). We sat down over a cup of coffee and talk about their company, Icelandic horses and animal welfare in tourism. Indeed, animal welfare is one of the guiding principles of the company.
Exploring Iceland has its own animal welfare policy which provides guidance for the responsible and respectful treatment of Icelandic horses. Both Exploring Iceland’s employees and business partners are expected to follow the animal welfare policy. Steinunn and Meike recognize the relevance of animal welfare in the tourism industry. Moreover, they believe that animal welfare is an essential aspect of responsible tourism.
By visiting Exploring Iceland, I was able to gain further insights into animal welfare in a Nordic context. I was also able to confirm that there is a need for certifications that focus on the welfare of horses used in tourism.
In the video below, Meike talks about their horse riding tours and some of the animal welfare practices of Exploring Iceland. If you want to know more about my visit to Iceland, please check our post from May 10, 2017.
We have been looking for experts to collaborate with our research team and the tourism companies involved in the project “Animals and Responsible Tourism”. Together with animal welfare and responsible tourism experts, we will focus on the development of criteria for the ethical treatment of animals used in tourism in the Arctic region. We are doing this in close collaboration with the project “Animal Welfare in Tourism Services”. We will invite a selected group of experts to join workshops, meet the project companies, and engage in knowledge exchange about animal welfare in relation to responsible tourism. This group of experts will definitely complement our tourism research expertise and help us to work towards the project objectives. Furthermore, responsible tourism experts with practical experience will provide valuable insights into the value of animals in today’s tourism industry.
The Finnish Association for Fair Tourism
We were delighted to connect with Tytti McVeigh and Mia Halmén from the Finnish Association for Fair Tourism (FAFT). As a non-profit organization (NGO), FAFT takes a broad, global perspective on fair tourism. In so doing, it aims to promote responsible tourism by fostering dialogues about ethical choices when traveling. Moreover, FAFT aims to educate travelers and tourism operators about the principles of fair tourism. With FAFT’s expertise, we are able to gain further insights into the current recognition of animal welfare in global tourism. FAFT can also help us to identify existing challenges and opportunities for the development of ethical and quality criteria for animal-based tourism services. Indeed, FAFT has been involved in the development of eco-certifications.
The Finnish Centre for Animal Welfare
As representatives of The Finnish Centre for Animal Welfare (EHK in Finnish), Satu Raussi and Tiina Kauppinen are part of a network of animal welfare specialists in Finland. The Centre is funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Finland. EHK aims to improve and safeguard the welfare of animals through active stakeholder collaboration. The expertise of EHK, which is highly valuable for our project, is based on scientific research and knowledge. Indeed, Tiina and Satu can help us to understand animal welfare in general and in relation to tourism. In particular, we found their expertise to be essential for the development of criteria for the ethical treatment of animals in tourism. You can watch Satu’s and Tiina’s greetings in our post November 16, 2016.
Animal Welfare consultants
Essi Wallenius works as an animal welfare consultant. Her expertise is in quality monitoring, auditing and communication of animal welfare. Essi holds a broad working experience in animal welfare. She has work in research, public offices and project consulting services related especially to welfare of livestock. In addition to her animal welfare expertise, Essi also has a wealth of experience in animal welfare communication. Indeed, Essi holds knowledge in responsible communication and marketing related to animal welfare. This knowledge is relevant for the development animal welfare communication strategies in the tourism industry.
We are really looking forward to starting our collaboration!
Text: Tarja Salmela-Leppänen, Mikko Äijälä & José-Carlos García-Rosell