The Swedish mountains are popular destinations for tourists, and the mountain region is attractive to many other industries and stakeholders. But how can these interests be reconciled with the current environmental objectives and the needs of the local population.
Researchers based at ETOUR, Mid Sweden University’s centre for tourism research, are seeking answers by means of three different projects.
The Three Projects form part of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s A Magnificent Mountain Landscape initiative, which supports the environmental objective of the same name. The activities involve a further nine projects, engaging around 40 researchers at six Swedish universities.Two projects, The New Mountain Experience and Beyond Conflicts in the Mountains, were completed last winter. In the first initiative, researchers studied changes and trends in mountain tourism and how they have affected environmental aims. The mountain ranges of Jämtland and Norrbotten and Fulufjället, in Dalarna, were chosen as case study areas. Visitor surveys had been conducted previously in all three areas, giving the researchers the opportunity to follow up results over time.
“Gaining access to and analysing this type of data is unique within tourism research, even from an international perspective,” explains ETOUR researcher Sandra Wall-Reinius. So what changes have taken place? According to Wall-Reinius, The New Mountain Experience project revealed a growing number of sporting activities and other major events in mountain environments, including everything from mountain marathons and ski contests to peak ascents and mountain bike races.
“We call this ‘sportification’; that is, a process in which recreation and tourism move towards sport. We’ve tried to highlight and analyse the concept to find out what people think, whether they’ve taken part in events themselves and what their attitude is to this dev elopment.”
Time Out From Social Media
Through analysis of Swedish people’s mountain trips over time, researchers have also noted that downhill skiing and mountain hiking remain very popular. In addition, outside the ski resorts, visitors tend not to use social media as often to share their experiences, either during or after their visit.
“This differs from other types of trips, where people generally use social media fairly regularly. When people visit the mountains, they want to escape everyday life, disconnect and be at one with nature,” adds Wall-Reinius.
However, while seeking a genuine outdoor experience, tourists also put a premium on good service. “Yes, it’s a slight contradiction. We see that more and more people want to experience the mountain landscape alone in peace and quiet, while also seeking close proximity to cabins and the option of helicopter trips and restaurant dining.”
Besides tourism, power stations, motorised activities and nature conservation regulations are potentially unwelcome elements of the mountain environment. The conflicts between different interests and stakeholders, such as business development, state agencies and local people, were studied in the project Beyond Conflicts in the Mountains.
“Take national parks for instance. What activities are actually permitted? From the Sami people’s perspective, it may be uncertain whether they can continue reindeer herding or protective hunting in an area designated to be a national park, while others wonder whether fishing, hunting and snowmobiling is permitted in regulated areas. This is where doubts can arise, and cause controversy.”
The most striking result of the study is that the aim of a national park is perceived to be unclear. “Are they intended to protect animals and nature, restrict further exploitation or attract more tourists?”
More tourism means greater financial gains for the tourism sector, but it also disturbs the reindeers’ grazing and thereby poses greater problems for the Sami people, argues Wall-Reinius. During planning, the interests of all parties must be considered. “The Swedish authorities must have a more open, flexible way of looking at national parks and what they actually mean to various stakeholders,” she says.
Mountain Trail Project
Earlier this spring, The Negotiating Pathways to Multifunctional Mountain Landscapes pilot project was launched as part of the A Magnificent Mountain Landscape initiative. Building on the aforementioned projects, this research focuses on mountain trails and their function in the landscape.
“There are several different types of trails, from marked tourist trails to culturally historical routes and reindeer herding routes. Marked trails are very effective at guiding visitors to specific areas, and most mountain hikers choose to follow them. In the project, our main objective is to examine the role of trails for all who use them. For example, trails can be drawn directly across important reindeer grazing land. Can they be redirected, and if so, who is responsible? These are some of the issues we’re looking at,” says Wall-Reinius.