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COVID-19 Guest Post Nordic Tourism OVertourism Research Tourism Western Norway University of Applied Sciences

Overtourism, Pandemic and Nordic Tourism

Guest post by Ove Oklevik, Associate Professor, Grzegorz Kwiatkowski, Associate Professor, and Gurid Gjøstein Karevoll, Assistant Professor, at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences.

During the last decades, most Nordic destinations have tried to increase the number of tourist arrivals. In recent years, before the pandemic, tourist arrivals secured continued growth in Nordic countries’ most popular destinations. This growth has in turn caused crowding challenges. Crowding is labelled ‘overtourism’ in academic literature and causes an ongoing debate among researchers. But overtourism has created a substantial public debate as well. One of the dilemmas is that overtourism is related to a few destinations only. Most of the areas in the Nordics are underpopulated and under-visited. There is room for a substantial increase in the number of inhabitants and visitors in these areas.

Overtourism in the Nordic Countries

Let us give some examples of overtourism from the pre-pandemic period in Nordic countries. These examples are not exhaustive, but might function as illustrations. In Denmark, Copenhagen is the most attractive destination. A high share of the visitors to the capital of Denmark – around 87% – tend to stay in and around the inner-city, especially the canal district Nyhavn. Nyhavn is well-known for its colourful merchant houses. The concentrated inflow of tourists in the city’s heart strains urban life with increased noise and traffic levels.

Copenhagen is bicycle-friendly but is also suffering from overtourism. Image by Visit Copenhagen

In Norway, examples of overtourism are Flåm and Lofoten. Several newspaper articles have documented the problem of large queues. In summer 2019, travellers had to wait for 5 hours to get a place on a ferry to Lofoten, a group of islands in Nothern Norway. On the mainland, in the same area, no queuing occurred.

Lofoten in Norway. Queuing is needed for travelling to Lofoten. Image by Pixabay.

Lapland is Finland’s northernmost region bordering Russia, Sweden, Norway and the Baltic Sea. Lapland is famous for its ski resorts, Northern Lights and subarctic wilderness. However, the most popular activity in recent years is husky rides. The growing interest in husky sledging puts the animals at risk. The tourist season in this region is short, between three and four months every year. A short season, combined with increasing demand, put a lot of stress on dogs and operators.

Dog sledging has become very popular in Lapland, Finland, but this also represents an overtourism challenge. Image by Pixabay.

The arrival of the pandemic

Declared as a pandemic on 11 March 2020 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has heavily influenced the travel and tourism industry worldwide. The travel and tourism sectors have been affected by travel restrictions, quarantines, lockdowns and mandatory testing. These pandemic measures have created volatile and unpredictable business and travel environments.The global tourism industry now looks into a third year of uncertainty. Some researchers argue that the COVID-19 crisis should be a turning point, and that a return to pre-pandemic overtourism phenomena is undesirable and also unlikely to happen. However, according to Gössling and Scheiggart (2021) there is minimal evidence that the crisis has changed or will change tourism at an aggregated level. On this question, the future will give us the answers.

The pandemic has also taught us some other lessons regarding to how people react to different behaviour from government, individuals and companies. Based on a research project funded by the research council of Norway, with researchers from Italy, the US and Norway, we have now learned more about how these actions might influence travel patterns.

In an experiment, researchers exposed respondents for information containing a government that responded to the pandemic in either a good or bad way. The study showed that bad politics regarding government responses to the pandemic (i.e. ignoring the dangers of the virus, not imposing any social distancing, and not listening to medical advice) might generate bad feelings like anger, disgust, and scornfulness in the population. Those negative feelings will, in turn, impact travel intentions among tourists. Bad governmental response of pandemics might impose a stronger desire (and more travelling too) to travel among the population. However, the impact is evident only for one group of people. As human beings, we might be described with two different individual characteristics. Some of us are highly individualistic, and others are highly collectivistic-oriented. Being highly individualistic means that they are highly competitive oriented, like to make decisions on their own, and are also more likely to travel alone or organize their travel as an individual. Their counterparts are collectivistic-oriented persons, who are more concerned about their group members’ well-being than their own needs, and they are more likely to travel in groups. Most people can be placed along a continuum between those two extreme points. However, the distinction between individualism and collectivism might help us better understand possibilities and challenges regarding travel patterns in post-pandemic time.

From left to right: Grzegorz Kwiatkowski, Associate Professor. Gurid Gjøstein Karevoll, Assistant Professor. Ove Oklevik, Associate Professor.

The research from Western Norway University of Applied Sciences shows that individualistically oriented tourists tend to travel in defiance if the government in their country mistreat a pandemic situation. The collectivistic oriented tourists don’t have this tendency. Collectivistic oriented tourists have a low desire to travel during a pandemic, independently of how their government treat the pandemic. Combined with existing knowledge that individualistically oriented tourists have higher spending, are more involved in special interest tourism, and tend to stay longer in a travelled area, those tourists might be a part of the solution of the overtorusim issue. Tourists visiting longer in an area are more likely to spread than short-time visitors. Short-time visitors are more likely only to target the main ( and crowdy) attractions. The individualistically oriented tourists represent more diverse interests than their collectivistic counterparts too. This might contribute to spreading those tourists on many different types of activities and thereby reduce the overtourism problem.

Solution on the overtourism problem? Shooting festival in Norway placed in rural regions. Image by the Frivillige Skyttervesenet.

One example of a special interest activity in Norway is “Landsskyttarstevent”  (i.e. a shooting festival). The festival is hosted in rural areas in Norway. The event is a one-time activity that lasts for eight days and it draws 10-15.000 people every year. And more important, it’s located outside the main tourist destinations in the country.

References

Drivers of public responses toward Coronavirus outbreak and implications of social dynamics – COSD – Høgskulen på Vestlandet (hvl.no)

Overtourism in Finnish Lapland puts huskies at risk – TAN (travelandynews.com)

Is Copenhagen the latest city to fall victim to overtourism? – Lonely Planet

Står fem timer i fergekø for å komme til Lofoten – NRK Nordland

Gössling, S. and N Schweiggart (2022). Two years of COVID-19 and tourism: what we learned, and what we should have learned.  Journal of Sustainable Tourism. 30(4)

Oklevik, O., Gössling, S., Hall, M., Steen-Jacobsen, K., Grøtte I.P. (2019). Overtourism, optimization and destination performance indicators: a case study of activities in Fjord Norway. Journal of Sustainable Tourism. 27(12); 1804-1824.

Oklevik. O, Kwiatkowksi, G., Preuss, H. and A. Kurdyś-Kujawska (2021). Contextual engagement in event visitors’ experience and satisfaction. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism.

Categories
Guest Post Just Governance Linnaeus University Sweden Tourism

Just Governance: The Pathway to Destination Social Sustainability

Guest post by Marianna Strzelecka, Associate Professor at Linnaeus University, Sweden.

In this short entry, I argue how the concept of a “Just Destination” must embrace resident empowerment in destination governance and see it as a condition for social sustainability.

What is “Just Governance”?

Just governance brings citizens and institutions closer and engages them in processes and structures that build societies (Bramwell & Lane, 2011). It considers “ethical principles that aim towards justice and the good of the place, the people and things in it, and the good of those who visit it” (Jamal, 2019). Ensuring just practices toward the residents and their natural and cultural goods requires addressing tangible environmental, ecological, economic, and social/social-political impacts and intangibles such as human–cultural and environmental relationships within the destination.

In sustainable destinations, justice must be the leading principle guiding tourism and the first principle for evaluating the effectiveness of tourism governance. In this regard, I propose that just destinations consider three-justice domains: distribution, recognition, and representation (Fraser, 2008).  

  1. A just distribution occurs “to everyone’s advantage and at the same time position of authority and responsibility must be accessible to all” (Rawls, 1999, p.53). Figueroa (2006) rightly notes that the most common usage of just distribution pertains to…something missing here?. Distribution issues underlying tourism governance may include equitable distribution of tourism-related risks, benefits, and costs and access to information, knowledge, or economic limitations. However, destination governance that only targets allocation fails to consider ‘who’ gets to be represented in decision-making or who gets to define what ‘justice’ means (Fraser, 2000).
  2. Recognition tends to be seen as a remedy to distribution issues. Fraser (2008) considered recognition a precondition to a membership in a political community, whereas Young (1990), urged that recognition “requires explicitly acknowledging and attending to group differences” (p.3). Participatory procedures may reinforce recognition in local governance as they create opportunities for different actors to come together to recognize each other’s interests and perspectives in tourism development.
  3. Representation can be seen as an essential step to mitigate conflicts in tourism destinations as it draws attention to the idea that the outcome of tourism decision-making must equally represent residents’ views and ambitions (Fraser, 2008). In this context, destination governance concerned with local or regional wellbeing must improve celebrate social differences and foster participants’ self-development and self-determination.
Just Destinations must embrace resident empowerment in destination governance and see it as a condition for social sustainability, argues Marianna Strzelecka (Photo source: Westmed)

Resident empowerment as a key to a Just Destination?

Fraser’s critical approach to justice is based on the principle of participatory parity, where systematic social inequalities are eliminated. This can be done through direct participation (Figueroa, 2006; Whyte, 2010). Such norm of direct participation requires that “all agents who may benefit or be harmed by the outcomes of institutional proceedings and social transitions have the opportunity to veto or formally accept the risks” (Whyte, 2010, p.77). However, the sole policy focus on participatory procedures overlooks local power struggles and structural inequalities. Participatory procedures are unlikely to produce just outcomes when some stakeholders dominate others regarding human, financial, or structural resources (Fung and Wright, 2001). Residents must both, be willing to participate and have the capacity to do so.

Resident empowerment is the key to effective destination governance (Beaumont and Dredge, 2010) and crucial to “people, organizations, and communities to gain mastery over their affairs” (Rappaport, 1987, p. 122). The political domain of resident empowerment is probably one that is most discussed. Its essence lies in that individuals or groups enhance their competency for tourism governance and are thus able to influence the governance process (Strzelecka & Wicks, 2015). The core idea of political empowerment for a destination’s social sustainability, is to shift power to people and communities to engage in the governance.

The three-justice domains as a means to empower residents

The transformative capacity of empowerment lies in its three-component structure. The intrapersonal component refers to the manner in which individuals think about themselves and includes concepts of self-efficacy and perceived competence (Zimmerman & Zahniser, 1991). The interactional component addresses individuals’ ability to “develop a critical understanding of the forces that shape their environment and knowledge of the resources required and methods to access those resources to produce social change.” (Speer, 2000, p.52) Empowering processes engage residents in learning about opportunities to influence the aspects of their environment and increase their ability to influence the decision-making process (Christens, 2012).

Distribution recognition and representation facilitate processes transforming local reality by reinforcing the centrality of residents (Bartholo et al., 2008, p. 104). However, while empowerment appears to be the core concept in political justice governance, it has not been previously theorized in relation to the three-justice domains. Frankly, empowerment is a fluid phenomenon, it may increase or decrease over time, and it may fluctuate at different points in time. This fluctuation over time, of course, implicates a reciprocal relationship between resident empowerment and justice in tourism governance where the justness of tourism governance could ebb and flow over time, too resulting in empowerment being a continual process where there is no resting or ‘having arrived’ at just tourism governance. Essentially, empowerment can be seen as a precondition for and an outcome of just government. For instance, just governance can empower residents with the capacity to initiate social change. In return, this social change modifies the form that empowerment will take.

Marianna Strzelecka, Associate Professor, Linnaeus University

Considering resident empowerment as a kind of precondition to resident participation in tourism planning and policymaking means that the empowering method must acknowledge and attend to existing local circumstances. Individual and group local identities, experiences, knowledge will contribute to residents’ self-efficacy or perceived control and motivate them to engage in destination governance. The above mechanism reinforces the resident’s perception of a more equal distribution of power to influence decision-making (Fraser, 2008). Residents who feel empowered are also more likely to see opportunities for representing their perspective on destination development. The representation domain of justice consists of two reciprocal forces. On the one hand, knowledgeable residents who feel encouraged and motivated will seek to represent their perspective in tourism planning and development. On the other hand, policymaking mechanisms for policy justice such as participatory procedure will enable those motivated residents to pursue their views and ambitions.

An equal distribution of resources, greater mutual recognition, and more inclusive processes enable the empowerment of local groups by facilitating direct participation and increasing their effectiveness. Empowered residents gain a sense of sociopolitical control in their particular situations. The sense of control among residents defines the extent to which they are motivated and see themselves as capable of using social and political resources (Zimmerman and Zahniser, 1991). In reference to recognition, representation, and distribution, empowerment is more than participation, “it includes the processes that lead people to perceive themselves as able and entitled to make decisions” (Rowlands, 1997, p.14). It reinforces recognition, representation, and distribution efforts in the destination governance and thus remains a precondition for the social sustainability of tourism destinations.

References

Bartholo R, Delamaro M, and Bursztyn I. Tourism for Whom? (2008). Different Paths to Development and Alternative Experiments in Brazil. Latin American Perspectives. 35(3), 103-119.

Beaumont, N. and Dredge, D. (2010). Local tourism governance: a comparison of three network approaches, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 8(1), 7-28.

Bramwell, B. and Lane, B. (2011). Critical research on the governance of tourism and sustainability, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 19 (4-5), 411-421.

Christens, B.D. (2012). Toward Relational Empowerment. American Journal of Community Psychology, 50, 114-128.

Figueroa, R. (2006). Evaluating environmental justice claims. In J. Bauer (Ed.), Forging Environmentalism: Justice, livelihood, and contested environments (pp. 360-376). Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe

Fraser, N. (2008). Scales of Justice. Reimagining Political Space in a Globalizing World. Cambridge, G.-B, Malden, E.-U, Polity Press.

Fung A. and Wright E.O. (2001). Deepening Democracy: Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance. Politics & Society, 29(1), 5-41.

Jamal, T. (2019). Justice and Ethics in Tourism (1st ed.). Routledge.

Rappaport, J. (1987). Terms of empowerment/exemplars of prevention: Toward a theory for community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology 15 (2), 121-148.

Rawls J. (1999). A Theory of Justice, Revised Edition, Harvard University Press.

Rowlands, J. (1997). Questioning empowerment: Working with women in Honduras. Oxford, UK: Oxfam.

Speer, P. (2000). Intrapersonal and interactional empowerment: Implications for theory. Journal of Community Psychology 28(1), 51-61.

Strzelecka M. & Wicks B. E. (2015) Community Participation and Empowerment in Rural Post-Communist Societies: Lessons from the Leader Approach in Pomerania, Poland, Tourism Planning & Development, 12(4), 381-397.

Whyte, K.P. (2010). An Environmental Justice Framework for Indigenous Tourism. Environmental Philosophy, 7(2), 75-92.

Young, I.M. (1990). Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Zimmerman, M.A., Zahniser, J.H. (1991). Refinements of sphere‐specific measures of perceived control: Development of a sociopolitical control scale. J. Community Psychology, 19, 189-204.

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Business Academy SouthWest Denmark Digital Competences Guest Post Tourism

Tourism and the Digital Jungle

Guest Post by Christian Dragin-Jensen, Senior Research & Business Development Specialist , at Business Academy SouthWest, Denmark.

At the backdrop of TourNord’s 1st network meeting in Esbjerg in late 2021, we were presented with a fascinating insight by Alice Bank Danielsen from Danish Coastal and Nature Tourism – namely the significant schism there exists between educational institutions’ understanding of digital competences in the tourism sector, versus the actual reality. It seems, at least in Denmark, that educational institutions have a perception that the necessary skills exist with practitioners to navigate the increasingly complex world of digital tools needed to cater to digital savvy guests, whereas the reality is quite the opposite. Following a report from Kvistgaard & Hird (2019), there is a significant gap in the absorption ability of adapting to tech changes in the tourism field between public organizations, research institutions and private supplier of digital solutions compared to that of tourism companies (figure 1). This is particularly the case for SME companies (small and medium-sized enterprises).

Figure 1. Kvistgaard & Hird (2019), p. 26.

The same report also highlights that these tourism companies wish to work on becoming digitally adept, yet only find the time to experiment and ‘test the waters’ in the off-season (namely the winter months), signifying that the output generated is not seen as a strategy or competence, but rather about here-and-now solutions and process coincidences, thus resulting in a fragmented and unsystematic smattering of actions.

With the industry increasingly depending on digital technologies for providing services and products for digital citizens, this is a worrying predicament for tourism – particularly Nordic Tourism as we are already considered as expensive destinations. Does rising requirements in digital competences mean a further price hike, or equally problematic – a drop in quality and variety of service and products offered? In this post, I don’t attempt to offer a panacea to such a wildly complex solution, and where a plethora of stakeholders exist. Instead, I see this post as a platform for discussion – particularly for educational institutions, how we define this issue, and what our role should be in addressing this gap.

Are we speaking the same language? Defining digitalization and the skills that come with it

Digitalization, much like innovation and sustainability, have become mainstream words in almost all business and educational circles – while mainstream, these are complex subject matters, which therefore make it much harder to pinpoint what we mean when we say digitalization – especially in a tourism context.

An EU initiative, SmartTourismCapital, has defined digitalization as offering “innovative tourism and hospitality information, products, services, spaces and experiences adapted to the needs of the consumers through ICT-based solutions and digital tools” (European Union, 2019, p.7). In short, offering a superior tourism experience through ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and digital tools, tailored to the needs of our guests. While simple in spirit, approaching this in practice (and knowing when you are succeeding) is much murkier. A potential cause for this is trying to define what we mean by digital skills, tools, and experiences:

Photo source: Google’s The Keyword

  • Are there certain experiences which are more digital-prone, or are digitally ‘critical’ for securing positive guest experiences?
  • What constitutes a digitally-skilled employee in tourism? Is it knowing how to engage guests on social media, building an integrated website, or working strategically with data? Does it depend on where in the tourism value chain the employee works?
  • Is digitalization about making employees life easier, so that they can focus on the critical aspect of personal service? Or is it about making the guest’s life easier? Maybe both?

Alice Bank Danielsen’s presentation further highlighted that many of the tourism companies identified digital activities as marketing initiatives, and it was in these areas that particularly SME’s struggled to make time work with these initiatives systematically and strategically. While incredibly important, this only sheds light on part of the digital skills divide. Research by Carlisle et al. (2021) has identified the need for a host of digital skills across tourism sectors in Europe, as seen below.  

Tour operators/travel agents

Skills related to digital marketing and social media, including the role of influencers. Analytical skills and making sense of big data was seen as important, yet more as a requirement for managerial and leadership level (as opposed to operations).

Destination Management Organizations (DMO’s)

Rather than providing information, DMOs see a need in the future to provide inspiration and experiences for visitors. They need to act as consultants to tourism companies in their destination, and to aid them to attract (new) target groups. This means supporting digital developments particularly within community management and marketing. Moreover, this requires digital analytical skills to provide data-driven analytics and marketing, and to conduct studies of tourism and trend analysis. To summarize, the digital skills needed here can be encapsulated as business intelligence, both on an operational and strategic level. 

Accommodation Providers

A blend of both marketing and operational digital skills was identified as critical. OTA’s and online booking portals will continue to dominate the market, and an online presence is a must to secure financial growth. While accommodation providers acknowledged the value of younger employees’ knowledge of social media, they found business communication skills to be lacking – in other words, writing skills to produce valuable content.

Rapid advancements in operational software, ranging from PMS (Property Management Systems) to CRM and hotel systems (e.g., Opera) are also seen as necessary. A leap forward in app-based programs, for example for housekeepers, is also seen as required digital skills. Hands-on skills on how to work technical equipment for accommodation providers who also host events (projectors, video equipment, sound systems, etc.) was seen as necessary.

It is quite clear for accommodation providers that there is wide range of digital skills needed, from both a hard- and software position. For SMEs, particularly family-driven entrepreneurial providers, this is quite a wide-range palette of skills necessary, and is justifiably, a digital jungle to overcome!

Visitor attractions

Was seen as lagging behind with other tourism companies, particularly with the use of big data, online marketing, and social media management. The most critical reflection was that at the moment, technical staff such as housekeepers or gardeners do not need digital skills, yet it that it was only a matter of time before every employee needs to have digital skills (or at least, a working knowledge of digital tools), as they will be tantamount to not only operational excellence, but to improve the visitor experience as well.   

F&B Operations

Employees foresee a significant shift in the food and beverage sector, as the restaurant industry has already begun a much-needed digital transformation to keep up with the modern guest. Changing eating habits, a drive for better gastronomic experiences, and an increased focus on local produce and quality, has created significant ripples down the restaurant supply chain, resulting in restaurants having to adjust their core offerings to match the digital guest.  

Christian Dragin-Jensen, Senior Research and Business Development Specialist, Business Academy SouthWest

What can we as educational institutions do?           

 Based on Alice Bank Danielsen’s comments and the Kvistgaard & Hird report, it is quite clear that the first necessary course of action is to instigate a dialogue with practitioners. We are, at the moment, sitting in our ivory tower, slightly out of touch with the lay of the land. This dialogue needs to be systematic and strategic (much like working with digitalization!), as technologies and demands are continuously evolving. This would also allow us to tailor courses not only to our students, but also to courses for continuing education (i.e., practitioners in the field, looking to upgrade their skillset). I believe that, tailoring, will be the critical factor for success in navigating the digital jungle for both current and prospect employees in the tourism sector. As Carlisle et al.’s research highlighted, different skills are needed for different sectors, and we simply cannot lump all these skills into broad categories of operational digital skills and marketing digital skill for all sectors. Create courses specifically for accommodation providers, DMO workers, visitor attractions, etc. to make sure you can pinpoint the right skills. For both students and continuing education participants, show them how to structure this strategically and systematically within their type of organization, so that it doesn’t result in process coincidences – an unsystematic smattering of actions.

To summarize:

  1. Increased dialogue (strategic and systematic) between educational institutions and pracitioners.
  2. Fine-tune digital skills classes/courses based on specific sectors (maybe even jobs?) within the tourism industry.
  3. Continuously tailor courses to match digital demands of guests.
  4. Teach students and practitioners how to create and systematically use a digital strategy.

References

Carlisle, S., Ivanov, S., & Dijkmans, C. (2021). The digital skills divide: evidence from the European tourism industry. Journal of Tourism Futures. https://doi.org/10.1108/JTF-07-2020-0114

European Union. (2019). European Capital of Tourism – Guide for Applicants.

Kvistgaard, P., & Hird, J. (2019). Vi arbejder mest med digitalisering om vinteren: En kvalitativ analyse af nordjyske turismevirksomheders digitale modenhed som kilde til øget vækst i nordjysk turisme. Retrieved from https://www.e-pages.dk/aalborguniversitet/756/html5/