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.
In this post, we provide access to an article referring to the project “Animal and Responsible Tourism” and its sister project “Animal Welfare in Tourism Services” in Aamulehti (Finnish newspaper). The article “Animals have enormous value in tourism” was written by José-Carlos García-Rosell and Tarja Salmela and published in Finnish in the June 11, 2017. The article was triggered by our reflections after participating in the Finnish Human-Animal Studies seminar “Valuable Animal” organized by the Finnish Society for Human−Animal Studies in April 2017.
In the article, we draw attention to the value of animals for the tourism industry. For example, we draw attention to the fact that the brand of many destinations are based on animals such as a bull (Spain), reindeer (Finland), panda (China) and Kangaroo (Australia). Also tourism companies used animals as part of their brand value. Moreover, animals play an essential role in the travel experiences of many tourists. A trip to Africa are usually associated to a safari. Similarly, when thinking of Iceland, one think of whale watching or horseback riding.
Tourists are not indifferent to the treatment of animal used in tourism. More and more tourists are interested in the well-being of the animals they get in touch with. Indeed, Animal welfare is a growing concern in the tourism industry. Global tourism companies like TUI and TripAdvisor have already taken these concerns seriously and are working towards better animal welfare practices in the tourism industry.
On June 12, 2017, we organized a seminar that brought together a group of experts to share knowledge and exchange experiences about the notion of responsible consumption in relation to animal-based tourism. Researcher Maria Pecoraro (University of Jyväskylä), Travel Writer and Editor Vicki Brown (Responsible Travel) and Professor Anu Valtonen (University of Lapland) were among the key note presenters. Also Minni Haanpää and Tarja Salmela from our research team presented preliminary findings of our ongoing studies. In this post, we want to offer an overview of the main arguments and ideas presented in the key notes.
Ethical consumption and animal welfare
In her key note, Maria Pecoraro focused on discussing ethical consumption in relation to animal welfare. She started her speech by drawing attention to the attitudes of Europeans towards animal welfare. Indeed, according to the Eurobarometer on Animal Welfare 2016, 89% of European citizens believes there should be EU legislation that oblige people to care for animals used for commercial purposes. Although the document focuses particularly on farm animals, it has also implications for animals used in tourism.
Pecoraro stressed that ethical consumption is a dynamic and contextual phenomenon, involving different meanings, values and ideologies. She also drew attention to how producers and consumers may approach animal welfare differently. Producers may view it as an issue related to performance and productivity. For consumers, on the other hand, animal welfare may be more about empathy with the emotions and feelings of non-human animals.
Responsible tourism in practice
Vicki Brown stressed that the idea of “responsible travel” doesn’t refer to a niche market of ethical consumers. On contrary, it is mainstream, reaching a large consumer base. To make her point, she used the example of “Undercover Tourists” – a BBC TV show watched by millions of people in the UK. In the show, undercover wildlife activists travel to holiday destinations to investigate cases of animal abuse. She also discussed how public interest in the impacts of tourism on society and animals is reflected in the success of documentary films such as Gringo Trails, Black Fish, and Blood Lions.
Contemporary consumers are better informed, and expects their service providers to act responsibly. If their expectations are not met, they may express and share their dissatisfaction in social media spaces. Furthermore, responsibility requires collaborating not only with consumers, but also with different stakeholder such as non-governmental organizations and the media. To learn more about Vicki Brown’s experiences in the seminar and Rovaniemi, read the post “Responsible travel goes to the Arctic Circle”.
Ethics: the in- and outsiders
In her key note,Anu Valtonen offered an overview of consumer research focusing on human-animal relations. As she pointed out, most attention has been given to the relationship between humans and pets, farm animals and animals used in entertainment. In this discussions, moral reflections have revolved around the welfare and rights of animals as well as the ethics of hunting and fishing. So, large, charismatic and attractive animals (e.g. bears, lions, reindeer) have been at the spotlight of this debate. Which animals have been left out? What about mosquitoes and other insects?, Valtonen asked provocatively.
Despite the role of these small animals in society, they have been totally neglected when discussing human-animal relations. Even though they may have a huge impact on our daily consumption habits. For example, in Lapland mosquitoes influence tourists and their activities. According to Valtonen, the study of animal-relations have been biased by western ideology that it is not shared by other societies. Indeed, she drew attention to the role play by insects in Asian societies. For example, Young-Sook Lee and colleagues showed in their study “Evidence for a South Korean Model of Ecotourism”how insects were seen as the main attraction in ecotourism sites in South Korea.
Encounters: Animals in tourism consumption
Minni Haanpää and Tarja Salmela pointed out that the target group of Finland “Modern Humanist”is more or less based on ethical consumerism. Ethical and value-driven consumption is particularly made explicit in human-animal encounters. Hence, there is a need to better understand who the ethical consumers are and what they expect from animal-based tourism service providers. The answer is not simple as ethical consumers are not an homogenus group. As Haanpää and Salmela stressed, ethical consumers have different roles, expectations and values. Their consumption doesn’t follow rational patterns, rather it is context dependent. For example, travel companion, destination and previous experiences can determine ethical consumption in a given time and space.
As a result, Haanpää and Salmela prefer to talk about perspectives on ethical consumerism rather than types of ethical consumers. In their research on ethical consumerism in animal-based tourism services, they identified three perspectives: indifference towards animals, ethical treatment of animals and conscious rejection of animal-based services. These three perspectives determine the consumption or non-consumption of animal-based tourism services.
The seminar received positive feedback from the speakers and the audience. According to the audience, the seminar was useful for understanding the connection between animals and ethical consumption. In particular, the dialogue between industry representatives and academicians was seen as fruitful and rewarding.
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
I just came back from an inspiring trip to Iceland. I was captivated by the hospitality, nature and animals of this Nordic country. The main objective of my trip was to visit the University of Iceland in Reykjavik and Holar University College in North Iceland.The Multidimensional Tourism Institute (MTI) is strengthening research and educational collaboration with its Icelandic partners. The trip was also an opportunity to visit and interview Icelandic tourism companies, which services are based on encounters with animals. From this perspective, the trip helped collect more data and information for the Work Package 1 of the project “Animals and Responsible Tourism”. The trip was funded by Erasmus+ and took place from May 1st till May 10th.
Animal-based tourism in Iceland
Horses and Whales
Animals are a very important element of tourism in Iceland. Icelandic horses are not only part of the brand of Iceland, but also a key constituent of Icelandic identity. Indeed, Icelandic people are very proud of their horses. Whale watching is also nowadays associated with a holiday in Iceland. According to Ice Whale, 20 per cent of tourists visiting Iceland take part in whale watching tours. The number of whale watching companies has considerably increased during the last decade. During this visit to Iceland, I was lucky to see two humpbacks whales and one minke whale from the shores of Hvammstangi in North Iceland. So with good luck, it is possible to see them from mainland too.
With more than 300 bird species, Iceland is a paradise for birdwatchers. Several tourism companies focus on this particular customer group. There is a bird that has also caught the attention of most travelers, the puffin. This Nordic bird, which live on the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean and come to land just for breeding, has become a sensation among tourists. Many whale watching companies offer puffing watching tours. In some cases, puffing watching is combined with whale watching. Puffins are not only clever birds, but also very cute. This is the reason why the puffin has become one of Iceland’s most popular souvenirs.
Hunting and fishing
Hunting and fishing are also part of the tourism offering of Iceland. Many tourists come to fish in rivers or on the sea. Reindeer hunting is also offered by some tourism wildlife companies. Icelandic reindeer are wild animals and live in the East part of the country.
In Hvammstagi, there is also a tourism company that offers seal watching tours. A couple of companies in Iceland offer husky safaris. This is a new animal-based tourism service that could grow in the future. So Iceland offers a wide variety of animal-based activities and they are growing fast.
Meeting Icelandic tourism companies
During this trip, I had the opportunity to talk about animal welfare with local tourism companies. I met Sveinn H. Guðmundsson, who is the Quality and Environmental Manager of Elding – a whale watching company. Elding is highly committed to animal welfare and environmental issues. I also met Steinunn Guðbjörnsdóttir and Meike Witt from Exploring Iceland. Steinunn is Managing Director of the company and Meike works as Sales and Product Manager. Exploring Iceland is an Icelandic tour operator selling outdoor activities and horseback riding tours. Animal welfare is one the key guiding principles of the company.
In Husavik, I met Erna Björnsdóttir and Loes de Heus from Salka Whale Watching. Erna is Marketing Director and Loes works as tour guide. Salka is a small whale watching company operating one (and soon two) fishing oak boats in Húsavík. This small Icelandic fishing town is known as the capital of whale watching. Salka follows the Ice Whale code of conduct for responsible whale watching in Iceland and it has been active in the campaign “meet us, don’t eat us” in Húsavík. Because of the campaign, no whale meat can be found in the menus of Húsavík’s restaurants.
In Skagafjördur, I met Evelyn Ýr Kuhne, Eydís Magnusdóttir and Sigrún Ingriddóttir. These three female rural tourism entrepreneurs are jointly promoting their services under the name “The Icelandic Farms Animals”. Eydís owns Sölvanes Farmholidays which offers accommodation in an old farm house. She also offers visitors the opportunity to experience the everyday life of Icelandic sheep farmers. Sigrún runs Stórhóll Runalist Galleri where visitors can find handicrafts made out of natural materials. Visitors can also visits the Icelandic goats and other farm animals. In addition to a farm environment in Lýtingsstaðir, Evelyn offers horseback riding tours with a touch of Icelandic cultural heritage. In fact, she has reconstructed an Icelandic old stable made of turf (see picture below).
During the next months, I will publish posts and short videos about each of these visits. So stay tuned to learn more about responsible animal-based tourism in Iceland!