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How many animal-based tourism operators and sleddogs are working in Northern Europe?
In 2017, the number of animal-based tourism companies in Finnish Lapland both selling directly to tourists and with discoverable websites is 158. However, there are probably twice that number who are effectively hidden because of either selling through other companies or working in conjunction with the larger farms in the winter months. Animal-based tourism in this instance refers to tourism involving sleddogs, reindeer, horses and also zoos / open farms.
If we consider the husky farms alone, there are 43 husky farms in Lapland with their own websites and yet one of the large ones, just down the road from us, owned by Santa Safaris / Transun UK, is not 'findable' through any web searches or as a standalone business entity. Similarly the next nearest farm to us, which has c. 40 dogs, simply works with other companies in winter time.
Hence, whilst the 43 'discoverable' husky companies across Finnish Lapland have c.4000 dogs, the real number of dogs in Finnish Lapland is likely to be twice as high as that. In our veterinary area alone, our area vet estimates that there are c. 17 sleddogs farms and c. 2000 dogs (with 2-5 more transitory 'farms' in the winter time). However, I think that that number is probably closer to 3000 dogs. And if you consider the wider region and the next nearest towns and cities in Sweden and Norway (Kiruna, Alta, Karasok and Tromso), we are probably talking about something in the region of 5-6000 dogs.
What is the value of this industry?
For Finnish Lapland, the value of animal based tourism has been estimated to be c.€50 million/year. This means that the income generated through reindeer tourism is now comperable to the value of reindeer through in the meat industry. Similarly, sleddogs and related program services have long been one of the main winter tourism attractions and as such, they form a pivotal component in the health of tourism in the region. Just one sleddog is estimated to make 3000€ turnover per year (horses, €3500 and reindeer, €).
In Enontekiö, where we are based, tourism equated to c. 50% of the municipality's direct income in 2011 - and since this sector of the market has grown a lot since then, I believe that it is probably a higher percentage, today. From a political perspective, our 'region' is combined with Kittilä, Sodankylä and Muonio for many purposes. Collectively, in this greater area, tourism is responsible for 30% of the economy and the 1000s of sleddogs and 10s of sleddog farms operating in this region are an important component of this.
Despite all of this, sleddogs are currently protected very poorly under existing national legislations. There are neither enforceable sleddog-specific regulations dictating their basic standard of care, nor are there agreed-upon voluntary codes of best practice for the farms to baseline against.
When considered in this light, it becomes obvious that we should be spearheading a European drive towards tighter legislation in order to safeguard this important part of the northern economies.
|Direct tourism income in EUR
(Välitön matkailutulo euroa)
Immediate income from tourism in man-years of employment.
|The % of tax income for the municipality which comes from travel tourism
(Matkailun osuus toimialoista %)
|Tax from Tourism-related Salaris |
(Palkkaverotulo vaikutukset euroa)
Clearly the security of the tourism industry is of vital importance to Lapland and this will require systematic efforts to ensure both high quality and safety standards and sustainable development of small rural tourism businesses. The image that the sleddog industry has, internationally, within each region, will clearly impact on its growth and sustainable development. Therefore definining minimum standards at which the least advanced of the sleddog businesses has to be seen to comply will increase confidence in the reputation of the sector as a whole.
According to the World Tourism Organization, future customers will increasingly demand quality, safety, environmental consideration of the local nature and authenticity. As product development and marketing will become increasingly more closely tied to the needs and expectations of the customer group, different age groups will also demand and develop their own products, thus creating further challenge within sled dog tourism. Tour operators and other customer groups will increasingly require that the program services provided are operating under a documented safety and quality program and the sleddog industry needs to be proactive vs reactive in this regard to safeguard its own future.
Regional Cooperation Needs between Stakeholders
Regional cooperation between businesses will also become more vital as tourist numbers increase. When it comes to the dog sled businesses in particular, an important aspect of securing their long-term viability will be linked to the outcome of negotiations with reindeer herders and other land users over protecting their access to an operational route network. Cooperation should clearly support the northern region's natural and cultural values and provide customers with authentic northern experiences and clearly consumers want access to both reindeer farms and sleddog enterprises (and snowmobiles and the ski track network - and some of these use the same trails!). Even though securing cooperation between the various stakeholders is likely to be a challenging process and one which will need to be handled sensitively, the risk factor involved in avoiding such discussions is potentially too high for each of the industries.
As cooperation between the northern business grows and the stability of their operations increases, the cultural and environmenal risk that currently exists from the sleddog companies travelling north to work in the area just in peak seasons should hopefully decrease. Those who live and work year-round in any given area have an incentive to ensure that the trails are, for instance, disease free, and that the needs of their neighbours are respected. Companies visiting for only a short time have less incentive to invest in, or care about the cultural issues or nature in an area.
In 2014, for instance, Santa Safaris / Transun (a UK company) chose to bring a Swedish company to Enontekiö for the short winter season rather than using local businesses and they unfortunately carried kennel cough with them and infected some local dogs - thus putting all of the area's dogs (not just sleddogs) at risk. This disease is periodically a big risk to the whole industry since farms with kennel cough should theoretically close their doors and let the dogs just rest until it has passed through. In reality, there is so much pressure to make them earn their keep during the few short months when it is possible that the farms are likely to hide the fact that they have the disease and hope for the best in terms of the long term health of the dogs. A healthier model for sharing trails between the sleddog companies would be the one that is being developed in Alta for 2016 in which the farms are working towards an agreement to give an additional nasal vaccine to all of the dogs sharing the same trails during the same time frame - and to communicate with each other if any farm sees any symptoms of their challenging illness. That level of cooperation is definitely something to aim for, in each sleddog area, in the future.
The risk from outside operators is not just, however, in terms of disease. Trail access is such a sensitive subject - particularly in the Saami areas - that it is vital that those using the trails respect the shared need of local stakeholders. Since outside companies do not necessarily understand the local issues or sensitivities, they might, for instance, use trails that the reindeer herders have specifically asked the sleddog companies to steer clear of, during calving time, thus increasing resentment unnecessarily between the industries. That is definitely one challening aspect of assigning access to trail networks since the fear for the herders is that if the dogs are allowed to run on more and more trails, their herd will be impacted. In reality, the visiting private sleddog owners pretty much currently go where they want irrespective of the needs of the herders and the companies residing in the area are generally restricted to such a tiny track network that when the reindeer herders ask them to take alternative routes to avoid reindeer movements, they have no routes open to them. All of these issues need careful consideration in order to safeguard the development of the northern industries in a sustainable manner in the face of a growing tourism need.
In order to protect this business in the changing face of consumer-driven pressure for responsible use of animals in tourism practices grows worldwide, it is time to take action and to develop meaningful and targeted guidelines as well as recommended best practices for the sleddog industry.
What should be done, moving forward?
What IS clear is that, given how important this industry is within the tourism market in Finland, there is a real need for work to be done in this area. Ideally before the accepted standards become more understood by the participating clients who might not just speak with their feet, by going to the better farms, but who could demand a more substantive change (eg with greyhound racing in Australia at present) which could negatively impact the industry as a whole.
FYI Unfortunately, the legislation is generally not available in English and this makes it almost impossible to even find when farm owners like myself try to track it down. This is actually a real issue due to the not-surprising (given that it is impossible to follow this passion elsewhere in Europe) number of sledfarms in Scandinavia which are either owned or run by foreigners.
Since this is therefore one of the key business areas in which foreign investors / entrepreneurs can be attracted to these regions, language accessibility needs should also be recognised by authorities when drawing up new laws and recommendations.
Finland's tourism strategy states: "Lapland is measured by the quality of tourism indicators, Finland's top province. Lapland will continue to be both corporate and tourist center at the level of quality development as a pioneer. The quality of the components, in particular the security of tourism and draws attention to "sustainable development. This will require systematic efforts to develop long-term operation of small rural tourism businesses. In northern Finland the main program service are valjakkokoira- and reindeer farm tourism. Quality and safety are important entities in the development of the above mentioned companies. Demanding arctic conditions require a diverse knowledge of the area.
Cooperation between sleddog businesses and reindeer farms is a contentious partnership - negotiating routes and other major issues common, and it can be added to the product development and marketing, and even common messuesiintymisillä. Once obtained, the companies also horse program services to offer, we can talk about the reindeer herding area of animal tourism.