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  • Writer's pictureJosé-Carlos García-Rosell

The certification of culture in tourism and hospitality

Indigenous cultures play a central role in many tourism destinations around the world. Indigenous communities, such as the Maasai, Quichua people, and Maori, for instance, represent a key element of the image of Kenya, Peru, and New Zealand, respectively. Indigenous cultures provide these destinations with the degree of exoticism needed to attract tourists and succeed in a highly competitive global tourism market. This is also the case in Nordic countries, where interactions with Sámi culture is considered by many tourists as one of the most memorable experience during a visit to northern Norway, Sweden, or Finland.

Tourism in Lapland is often promoted with images of Sámi people in traditional clothes, reindeer, and lavvu. In spite of the bustling tourism industry and the increasing use of Sámi cultural elements in tourism services and marketing initiatives, promoting Lapland, the number of Sámi tourism companies is relatively low. As a result, the high visibility of Sámi culture in the tourism market does not directly benefit Sámi communities. Moreover, the use of Sámi culture by destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and non-Sámi tourism companies in an inappropriate way may even contribute to the denigration of Sámi cultural values and identity. To prevent the abuse of Sámi culture several initiatives have been taken in the Nordic countries such as the Sápmi Experience Quality Mark (Sweden) and the Ethical Guidelines for Sámi Tourism (Finland).

Sápmi Experience Quality Mark

By certifying tourism companies that respect the integrity of the Sámi culture and offering guidelines to prevent its objectification, the Sápmi Experience Quality Mark was a pioneering Swedish initiative. Swedish tourism companies awarded this certification were both knowledgeable about the Sámi culture and able to take a holistic approach to the Sámi living environment. A holistic approach refers to the ability to develop a sound relationship between tourism activities, Sámi culture, and the natural environment. Indeed, the criteria for the Sápmi Experience Quality Mark comprised not only a cultural, but also a service and environmental aspect. Despite its potential to assist Swedish tourism companies in the promotion of culturally responsible tourism practices, this certification lacked the proper financial and political support to keep it in operation. Nevertheless, the certification offered an excellent example and learning opportunity for other similar initiatives to be developed. More about the Sápmi Experience Quality Mark in the video below.

Ethical Guidelines for Sámi Tourism

The Ethical Guidelines for Sámi Tourism were ratified by The Sámi Parliament on the 24th of September in 2018. Similar to Sápmi Experience Quality Mark, the guidelines aim to prevent the objectification and abuse of Sámi culture in Finland. At the same time, the ethical guidelines are seen as a way of protecting Sámi cultural practices and traditions. The ethical guidelines are primarily thought for tourism companies outside the Sámi community who may use Sámi cultural elements in the services, marketing, and communication material. As a continuation of the guidelines, there are plans to create a certification for Sámi tourism in Finland. To that end, the University of Lapland has started a project in cooperation with The Sámi Parliament.

PS. if you are interested in learning more about cultural responsibility in tourism, check out the website of the project Culturally Sensitive Tourism in the Arctic (2018-2021).

This blog article is partly based on the article "Certification of Indigenous Cultures in Tourism - The Case of the Sápmi Experience Quality Mark" authored by José-Carlos García-Rosell (2016) in The Finnish Journal for Tourism Research.


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