Regenerative Tourism – building a healthy tourism in the Nordics

The tourism industry is the sector that has suffered the most from the Covid-19 pandemic. Travel restrictions, closed borders and economic hardship have led to an almost standstill in tourist activities, international work travels, and conferences. A negative impact on tourism has a negative impact on other vital industries for the economic growth in the Nordic region.

NORA therefore decided to organize a tourism conference as part of their 2021 programme. The purpose of the conference called ‘Regenerative Tourism – building a healthy tourism in the Nordics’ was to address the challenges that the tourism industry has been facing in the Nordic region both during and after the pandemic. The focus was to build back better, while aiming for a higher degree of local economic revenue, and environmental and social sustainability.

When the world opens for travel again, there will be tough competition between countries to attract travelers. At the same time, surveys show that people in the future, to a large degree, will focus on sustainable travel and the Nordic countries have a strong position there already. The Nordic Council of Minister’s ambitious goal – that the Nordic region is to become the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030 – fits well with this trend for sustainable travel. An integrated region requires cooperation across borders and there are already several tourism projects within the Nordic region. The hope was that a joint conference could lay the groundwork for the restart of a regenerative tourism post COVID-19 in the Nordic and that the Nordic region can be established as the obvious choice for the type of travelers that the Nordic countries want to attract. 

The conference was organized as a combination of keynote presentations from prominent voices in tourism and keynotes with workshops with specific, hands-on examples from tourism providers in the NORA region and the other Nordic countries. 

Anna Pollock, Signe Jungersted and Zita Cobb gave valuable insights and the workshops focused on three themes: Best Practice, Local Involvement and Seasonality. Also, the winning idea on tourism in rural areas from the NORA hackathon “Think Rural, Think Digital, Think Ahead” and Bente Bratland Holm, head of Visit Norway, presented their new tourism strategy.  

The conference took place in Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, on 19 and 20 October 2021. Around 120 people took part in the conference, just over half of them came from the Faroe Islands, the rest of the participants came primarily from the other Nordic countries but also from Great Britain, Italy, Estonia, New Foundland, Canada and USA. 

The conference ran over two days with keynote presentations and Q&A sessions in the morning of 19 October and plenary presentations in the early afternoon and the morning of 20 October. The conference ended with a Q&A session with the three keynote presenters. 

The afternoon of 19 October was dedicated to parallel sessions with presentations from tourism providers from the Nordic countries who were invited to share best cases within Seasonality, Best Practice and Local Involvement. See the programme HERE (https://nora.fo/rtc-program)

In the afternoon of the second conference day the delegates could choose between different tours/excursions. Heimablídni, dine with locals, with Harriet and John and their children in the small town of Æðuvík, two different ‘closed for maintenance initiatives’ to maintain hiking paths to the villages of Gásadalur and Velbastaður and a guided tour to the art museum in Tórshavn. The tours together with the Tórshavn municipality welcome reception and the dinner on the first conference day gave the delegates ample opportunities to network and further discuss the presentations and the findings from the conference under more informal circumstances.   

The feedback from the conference delegates and the presenters was very good. People were happy to be able to meet again in person after almost two years of covid and the general feedback was, that people felt that the topics of the conference were very important for the way forward in Nordic tourism. There was a very enthusiastic and optimistic energy at the conference and among the participants. The feedback was that the visionary keynotes combined with hands on examples from tourism in the Nordics was a perfect combination, which gave both inspiration but also specific examples that people could take back home. 

The organisers would have liked to see more people from DMOs in the Nordics and more tourism providers from the NORA region, so that more people could be part of the post-conference conversations, however the presentations are online, so they are still able to ‘attend’. So far, the conference presentations have had around 200 views. 

In addition to the conference, Anna Pollock and Zita Cobb had presentations at the Faroese University the day after the conference for students at social studies department. Dennis Holm from the small Faroese village of Vágur also had a presentation on how the village has developed from a fishing community to an experience economy community. This was part of the work of conferences giving back to the local communities and legacy. 

The directors from all the Nordic Visit organisations took part in the conference. It was the first time that they all met in person after covid and after some changes in management at the Visit organisations. In addition to attending the conference, they had meetings where they discussed future cooperation. The ambitious goal of the conference was to write a joint statement signed by the Visit directors on the future path of tourism in the Nordics. There was a general understanding of the importance of such a guiding document and also a wish to work more closely together, but the document was not signed, as some of the Visit organisations are only working with marketing and promotion and not development and were therefore unable to sign a document on the future development of the Nordic countries. Following the conference the Visit directors have decided to meet and see how they can work together after the conference. 

There was a lot of talk about the importance of people in Nordic tourism meeting on a regular basis to discuss issues of mutual interest. The hope is, that the conference will be seen as a first in many joint conferences on tourism in the Nordics in the future and will lay the groundwork for future cooperation among tourism providers and authorities in the Nordics. 

Nordic Atlantic Cooperation (NORA) was the initial project leader of the conference, but due to change in staff, Visit Faroe Islands took over the project management of the conference. NORA contributed with DKK 400,000, Arctic Cooperation Programme contributed with DKK 350,000, NATA with DKK 100,000, Visit Faroe Islands with DKK 100,000 and the Municipality of Tórshavn hosted a welcome reception. 

Link to presentations, images etc www.visitfaroeislands.com/regenerative 

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