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.
The life of the Lapland reindeer is shaped by reindeer herding, which is based on the reindeer’s natural instincts to search for food. As a traditional livelihood, reindeer herding is associated with Sámi culture, the only truly indigenous culture in Europe. Nevertheless, in contrast to Norway and Sweden where the right of reindeer ownership is reserved to members of the Sámi community, in Finland non-Sámi can also own reindeer. Indeed, less than 20% of reindeer owners in Finland are Sámi. Although reindeer is a semi-wild animal that roam freely in the forests and fells of Lapland, every reindeer has an owner. If you look carefully, you will see that all reindeer have an earmark.
The Christmas magic
Reindeer are also integral to the magic of Christmas and the winter season. For many visitors just seeing these animals along the road or while walking through the forest in the snow is part of the Christmas experience. Indeed, meeting a reindeer can thus become a magical and unique experience. In a similar way, reindeer sledging and farm visits are also highly popular with tourists of all ages throughout the Christmas and winter season, especially if it’s part of a visit to see Santa himself. All in all, the reindeer is one of the icons of Lapland tourism – a place they certainly deserve.
Test your reindeer knowledge!
Now you have the possibility to test how much you know about the Lapland reindeer by playing the quiz card game below. Even if you don’t know much about reindeer, you may learn a lot by play the game. Just give a try and see what is your level. To see the answer just click on the picture and scroll down to the second page. You may probably have the potential to become reindeer herder. You never know!
How important is animal welfare communication in tourism?
Communicating about the welfare of animals working in tourism has become highly relevant at a time when consumers values are pushing towards more responsible consumption. A recent study that we conducted at the University of Lapland shows that 83% of tourists are concerned about the rights and treatment of animals in today’s society. At the same time, many tourists considered animal-based activities as an important reason for traveling to places like Lapland. Indeed, although many tourists feel that interaction with animals is an exciting experience, they are also concern about the treatment of animals in tourism. As a result, animal welfare is becoming a critical criterion used by tour operators to select their suppliers.
A guide for communicating animal welfare in tourism
Responsibility emphasizes the important role of communication in creating and maintaining transparent and open dialogues with customers and other stakeholders. We need such dialogues to foster ethical and socially responsible tourism practices. Therefore, we created a guide focusing on the ways of communicating and educating on animal welfare in tourism. The guide aims to help animal-based tourism companies evaluate and develop more comprehensive animal welfare communication strategies. It is also suitable for tour operators, DMOs and other business partners selling or promoting animal-based tourism services.
Although animal welfare communication is company-specific, there are questions that most companies struggle with. For instance, Which communication tools to use? What content to share in social media? Which information to put on the website? What information is relevant for the customers? Rather than being exhaustive, the guide offers some guidance on some of these crucial issues related to animal welfare communication. Furthermore, it helps companies increase the transparency of their operations and the visibility of the values shaping their animal welfare policies.
At its best, it provides a good starting point for an animal-based tourism company to reflect on their way of communicating their business philosophy and how they make it happen in practice. The guide is the outcome of our work in the project “Animals and responsible tourism: promoting business competitiveness through animal welfare”. The guide was written and assembled by Meike Witt from Exploring Iceland, Tarja Salmela and José-Carlos García-Rosell from the University of Lapland.
Millions of travelers share their experiences trough social media. Data generated online can take various forms (e.g. comments, reviews, blog posts, tweets, pictures, videos and vlogs). This type of data is usually referred to as user-generated content or traveller-generated content.
If we consider the amount of user-generated content, social media becomes a valuable source of information for understanding consumer values. As a growing public discussion, animal welfare in tourism is well-represented in social media.
We identified 208 reviews in TripAdvisor and 113 pictures and 30 videos in other social media channels. As a result, we can position TripAdvisor as one of the leading social media channels for discussions about animal-based tourism in Lapland. Tourists write the reviews to share their experience and often comment on the quality of life of working animals in Lapland.
Animal welfare in the spotlight
Animal welfare was the largest topic of discussion identified in the study. We identified a total of 331 comments related to the welfare of animals such as sled dogs and reindeer. Nevertheless, we should stress that most comments focused on sled dogs. We found out that discussions on animal welfare focused on a wide range of issues related to the life and treatment of animals. For example, we identified discussions revolving around issues such as care, health, work, chains, animal facilities, ethics and the retirement of animals.
With our study, we show that tourists using animal-based tourism services pay a lot of attention to different aspects of animal welfare. Although we can see a general interest in how animals are treated, tourists were also concerned about their working conditions and their future retirement. Tourists, who were more concerned about animal welfare, contacted the companies directly. Indeed, they did careful online research before booking the service.
If you want to know more about the study, you are warmly welcome to read the full report HERE.
Although animal-based tourism activities could be one the reasons for visiting a tourism destination, this may not be the case of the Balearic Islands. Nevertheless, animals are clearly part of the experiences of many tourists spending their holidays on these Mediterranean Islands. Animal-based attraction such as marine parks, aquariums and zoos are part of the marketing material and street view of most Balearic towns. In particular, tourism companies are targeting these attractions to families traveling with children. Also scuba diving, which is popular among some tourists, should not be forgotten. After all, it is as animal-based activity whereby marine fauna become an essential part of the underwater experience.
City tours on Galeras
Another popular animal-based activity, which one can see in most towns, is the horse carriages or so called “Galeras”. The Galeras usually operate in the historic city centers. When I asked the students to think about animal welfare in relation to the Balearic Islands, the first thing that came to their mind was the Galeras. The students were concerned about the welfare of the horses working under challenging conditions. Concerned citizens have publicly been debating this issue in Palma.
Indeed, over the last years several horse deaths and accidents have happened on the streets of this Mediterranean destination. The horses have to trot over hard surface (pavement, stone) and deal with high temperatures, particularly, during the summer months. Without appropriate watering and feeding, these horses suffered of dehydration and undernourishment. There also seems to be no control over the number of working hours and amount of weight to be pulled by the animals.
We can ask ourselves the following questions: Can the local government guarantee the welfare of horses through stricter regulation?Or does this case demand the absolute ban of the Galeras? There is indeed a movement collecting firms to stop the galeras in Palma, Mallorca. The movement is called “Stop Galeras”. This movement form part of global criticism on the use of horses for tourism activities in cities. We can see similar discussions taken place in cities like Montreal, New York and Melbourne. According to the criticism, horses do not belong on city streets. A city environment with traffic and crowd of people is already detrimental to the welfare of any horse.
Studying the views of Lapland tourists on animal welfare
During June 2016 and February 2017, we conducted a study aiming to explore the attitudes of Lapland tourists towards animals and animal-based tourism. To that end , we use a semi-structured survey based on cluster sampling. Data collection took place in Rovaniemi and mostly in the premises of the Rovaniemi Airport. We focused mainly on the departures of charter flights. In that way, we were able to get a representative sample of the tourists coming from the most important target markets of Lapland. We selected the respondents randomly. We conducted the survey in six different languages: Finnish, English, German, Russian and Mandarin. A total of 601 tourists from more than 20 different countries participated in the survey. The study was part of the project “Animal welfare in tourism services”.
How important animals are to Lapland tourists?
We found out that animals play an important role in attracting people to Lapland. Indeed, 68% of the tourists surveyed said that animal-based tourism activities were an important reason for visiting Lapland. We also found out that 83% of the tourists were concerned about the rights and treatment of animals in today’s society. This finding is consistent with the results of the Eurobarometer on animal welfare 2016. According to it, 89% of European citizens believe that there should be an EU-legislation that obliges people to care for animals used for commercial purposes. The majority of tourism considered that animals should not be maltreated under any circumstances. Only few respondents saw animals as tourism objects that should be always visible and easy to photograph.
In addition, we found out that the staff and marketing channels of animal-based tourism companies play a important role in providing information about animal welfare. Also the respondents stressed the role of local tourism information offices in communicating about animal welfare. If you are interested in reading more about the study, you can access the full report HERE. Although we can say that the majority of Lapland tourists are concern about the welfare of animals working in tourism, we could identify a group of customers that are particularly concerned about the issue. We call this group “ethical consumers”. We have conducted interviews with them to study their values and how they influence their tourism consumption. In addition, we have conducted a social media analysis focusing on animal welfare in Lapland tourism. We will publish these studies in the coming months.
For a second year in a row, we were in the The Nordic Travel Fair held at the Helsinki’s Expo and Convention Center. The event counts with more than 1000 exhibitors from 80 different countries. As a travel event, it offers an excellent space for discovering new products, services and business partners. Moreover, it is a place for discussing the late developments in the Finnish and global tourism industry. The event took place between January 18-21. The first day is exclusively reserved for travel professionals and the rest of the days is open for the public in general. Also in 2018, we could see that animals continue to play an important role in the fair. Pictures and shapes of animals could be found in the different corners of the travel fair.
In this post, we want to talk about the arrival of the the Pandas in Finland and our public discussion on “Ethical Business and Animals” at the Nordic Travel Fair.
Although some have celebrated the arrival of the pandas, some have also showed concerns about their introduction to Ähtäri Zoo. The arrival of the pandas has been surrounded by a lot of discussion in the Finnish media. Indeed, it can be seen as a backward step in terms of ethics by a society that is becoming more sensitive to issues related to animal rights and welfare. As a result, Ähtäri zoo might be taking a risk by hosting the pandas. In an interview with Radio Suomi (18.1.), Minni Haanpää talked about the pandas in relation to ethical tourism. Listen to the interview in Finnish here (starts at minute 27:55).
In particular, we want to draw attention to three issues that were highlighted in the discussion. First, the growing interest in animals in society. Indeed, this is not just phenomenon limited to the West, but something that can be seen in different parts of the world. For example, in China, there is also a growing social movement for animal rights and welfare. Second, ethical consumption is colorful and evolving. As a result, ethical consumers cannot be categorized under one and the same group. Third, ethical business demands transparency and continuous interaction with consumers. Only so we can reach the degree of trust that is expected by ethical consumers. Next time, we will write about the views of Lapland tourists on animals working in tourism. So, Stay tuned!
Recently, some international tour operators have been conducting animal welfare audits in animal-based tourism companies located in Lapland. This is the first time that animal welfare audits are conducted in Finnish animal-based tourism companies. The audits help the tour operators to ensure that their suppliers are operating according to their animal welfare policies. Most of these animal welfare policies are based on the “Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism” defined by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). Our expert José-Carlos García-Rosell was able to join one of the audits conducted in one of our project companies in December 2017.
What is the animal welfare audit about?
The idea of the audit is that a team of auditors is assigned with the task to assess the welfare of animals working in tourism. The auditors can work for the tour operator or an inspection company contracted for the assignment. The auditors assess the welfare of animals according to a given criteria. The companies to be audited are contacted in advance to set a time for the visit. Usually, the auditors have a list of the companies and premises to be contacted for the audits. These companies have usually a contract with the tour operator requesting the audit. In some cases, contractors of the supplier of the tour operator could also be asked to be audited. For example, the audit can be carried out in an animal-based tourism company selling services to a destination management company that has a contract with the tour operator.
The audit can take between 2 and 5 hours. It depends on the location, type of animals, company size and premises to be audited. The auditors go through an interview guide together with representatives of the company being audited. They also visit the animal premises and may even take part in some of the activities offered by the company. The interview material is supported by visual material (pictures and videos) made during the on-site visit. After some weeks, the audited company is informed about the results of the audit. The audits are an important tool for the tour operators, as it allows them to gather information on the quality of animal-based services they sell. For an overview of different auditing practices check our report “Quality monitoring practices in animal-based tourism”.
How do the audits work in Lapland?
The animal welfare audits have been designed to be used in different animal tourism services and attractions. This can be seen as a strength and a weakness. By using global animal welfare criteria, the audits face some limitations in considering the specific needs of different animal species and the way they are used in particular tourism contexts. For instance, sled dogs and elephants are common animals used in tourism, but they have totally different needs and requirements. Nevertheless, similar audit criteria may be applied to both animal species. Furthermore, since most audits have initially been developed for assessing the welfare of captive wild animals (elephants, dolphins, etc.) , it tends to stress the needs of those animals in the evaluation. This causes some challenges for assessing animal welfare in Lapland tourism.
For example, one audit criterion may consider as negative if the skin of an animal is scratched or bleeding. Although this is important, it disregards the fact that reindeer rubs the antlers against hard surfaces to get the skin off in the late autumn. So blood in the antlers of reindeer is quite normal at that time of the year. Another criterion may require that animals are provided with a shelter, which is self-evident in other animal species. Nevertheless, this does not concern reindeer. As semi-wild animals, reindeer do not need shelter in the winter. Their hair is hollow which insulates them from the cold temperatures.
Auditing criteria may also see the chaining of animals as negative. In the case of sled dogs, a tether can sometimes be a better option for the dog than a kennel. Similarly, the audits may lack more specific criteria that is necessary for guaranteeing the welfare of reindeer and sled dogs.
What to conclude?
The fact that there are some limitations in the audits does not mean that they are not beneficial or needed. On the contrary, we should be appreciative that we have animal welfare guidelines in the tourism industry and that tour operators are conducting these audits. These first audits clearly indicate that animal welfare in tourism is becoming an important issue for both companies and consumers. Indeed, there will be an increase in the number of animal welfare audits conducted in the near future.
These first auditing experiences open new possibilities for developing an animal welfare criteria that are suitable for the animals working in Lapland tourism. This is part of the work we are doing in the last phase of our project. We are doing this work in cooperation with local companies, international tour operators and experts in the fields of responsible tourism and animal welfare. As a whole, this will support our local companies in developing their animal welfare policies and business operation in a way that benefit both the animals and the industry.
In August 2017, we started an action research (AR) process that aims to produce and disseminate good practices concerning animal welfare. The focus is mainly on sled dogs, reindeer and horses. To that end, we invited our project companies to engage in a dialogue with each other and other stakeholders. Indeed, we want to create a fertile ground for the development of future animal welfare monitoring practices for the tourism industry in Lapland. The AR process consists of a planning, acting, observing and reflecting phase that will be implemented between August 2017 and April 2018. We illustrate the AR process and multi-stakeholder dialogue in the images below.
Small workshops on sled dogs, reindeer and horses
As the first step of the AR process, we invited the project companies to join a small workshop to discuss about animal welfare in relation to their own operations. In total, we organized four small workshops during August-October 2017. We divided the workshops according to animal species. Indeed, two workshops focused on sled dogs, one on reindeer and one on horses. The workshops took place in Muonio, Rovaniemi and Kuusamo. The discussions in the workshops were guided by – but not limited to – three main themes: information sharing, monitoring and the link between employees’ well-being and animal welfare. We identified these themes during previous studies conducted in the project. We audio-recorded all meetings. Then, we carefully examined and summarized the discussions from the meetings into a report.
Large workshop with companies and external experts
As second step of the AR process, we organized a large workshop in Rovaniemi on October 21, 2017. We invited the project companies and and key stakeholder representatives to join us in the event. The aim of the large workshop was to discuss the outcomes of the small workshops and receive feedback from stakeholders with expertise in animal welfare and responsible tourism. Indeed, we counted with the participation of representatives of two international tourism companies: Meike Witt (Exploring Iceland) and Vicki Brown (Responsible Travel). Also Satu Raussi (The Finnish Centre for Animal Welfare) and Kati Pulli (Finnish Federation for Animal Welfare Associations) joined us to share their expertise on animal welfare. Finally, Mia Halmén (The Finnish Association for Fair Tourism) took part in the workshop as a responsible tourism expert. Before joining the workshop, these representatives read the report from the small workshops.
In the workshops, we were able to exchange ideas and views on how and what kind of practices should be developed for monitoring the welfare of sled dogs, reindeer and horses. In the next months, we will focus on developing a set of guidelines for animal welfare communication and questions for auditing animal welfare in tourism companies operating in Lapland. Furthermore, we will use these guidelines for performing animal welfare auditing simulations in some of the project companies. Meike Witt already helped us to develop questions for assessing the animal welfare practices of horse stables. We will keep reporting on the AR process. So stay tuned!
In the video below, Tarja Salmela and Meike Witt send some greetings and briefly tell about the work done so far.
The article introduces both projects and the work done by the University of Lapland and the Lapland University of Applied Sciences on animal welfare in tourism. In the article, Mia Sivula draws attention to two important issues surrounding the animal welfare discussion in tourism: customer education and an animal-center perspective.
As stated in the article, tourists are usually not familiar with the animals working in Lapland tourism. Indeed, most visitors are unaware of the living conditions and needs of animals such as huskies and reindeer. As a result, there is a need to educate visitors on the animals they may interact with during their visit. As Miia Merkku explains, they have to teach tourists reindeer manners as they teach human manners to reindeer. In fact, a better awareness of the animals may lead to greater welfare and tourist experiences.
An animal-center perspective
In order to guarantee the well-being of the animals, it is is important that service provider put animals first. Customer should not always be king when it comes to animal-based tourism services. For example, Miia Merkku has many times said no to the request from customers to get inside the reindeer fence. As she explains, the fence area is the reindeer home and where they can just be among themselves. They have a right to their own private sphere. Also for Päivi Hiukka the well-being of their dogs come first and she expects the same attitude from their customers.
Text: JC García-Rosell (based on the article written by Mia Sivula)