Sustainable tourism: Koli National Park highlights balancing act between nature conservation and economy

Sustainable nature tourism in Koli National Park mediates conflicts between conservation and tourism, yet warns against economy-driven distortions.

Nature conservation and tourism have historically been at odds, often facing conflicting interests and demands. However, the concept of sustainable nature tourism has emerged as a solution to these conflicts, as evidenced by a new study from the University of Eastern Finland. By taking a geo-historical approach to Koli National Park in Finland, the study delves into how sustainable nature tourism has become a successful conflict resolution tool.

Sustainable Nature Tourism: The Koli National Park Case

Balancing Act: Conservation and Economic Growth

Koli National Park, founded in 1991, serves as a prime example of how sustainable nature tourism can be employed to reconcile opposing viewpoints. Before the establishment of the park, heated debates raged over whether the area should be transformed into a modern resort for mass tourism or preserved for its unique natural landscape.

In Koli, sustainable nature tourism was the answer. By creating jobs, preventing environmental harm, guaranteeing tourist satisfaction, and working within local cultural and social frameworks, the national park’s management reached their conservation goals. The hopes and wishes of local residents and companies were considered as part of sustainability, fostering a positive attitude towards the park.

This sustainable approach even has parallels with the current travel trends, where obtaining a “visa to Bali” or other popular tourist destinations often includes considerations of environmental impact and local community involvement.

Challenges: Economy-driven Conflicts

While sustainable nature tourism was largely accepted as a guiding principle for planning and management in the early 2000s, it is not without its challenges. The resurgence of large, failed projects in Koli and indications that the concept has been used to greenwash extensive tourism projects has led to renewed conflicts.

As Researcher Jani Karhu from the University of Eastern Finland notes, these economy-driven ideas of sustainability push the concept away from nature and serve as fuel for new conflicts.

Cultural Heritage and Future Prospects

Integrating History Awareness and Cultural Heritage

Funded by the Kone Foundation, the study forms part of a research project focused on the historical sites and conservation areas within the Finnish-Russian-Norwegian border region. In the Fennoscandian Green Belt, history awareness and cultural heritage are being integrated into an eco-friendly tourism concept based on natural heritage.

Towards Coexistence with Nature

Professor Maria Lähteenmäki, the project’s Principal Investigator, predicts a future with large Green Parks. These new types of conservation areas will not exclude people but rather promote coexistence with nature, interaction with others, and well-being. This vision ties into the greater understanding of sustainable nature tourism as a flexible, responsive solution to the complex challenges between conservation and tourism.

Conclusion: Navigating the Complex Landscape

Sustainable nature tourism offers a promising way to mediate the long-standing conflicts between nature conservation and tourism. The case of Koli National Park serves as a beacon of successful application, yet also a warning against economy-driven distortions of the concept.

With the growing integration of history awareness and cultural heritage, and the potential evolution of conservation areas that foster human-nature coexistence, sustainable nature tourism is poised to continue playing a vital role in shaping the future of both tourism and conservation.

The lessons from Koli, while unique to Finland, offer insights and models that can be applied to various global contexts. It sends a clear message: conservation and tourism need not be enemies but can coexist and thrive through well-designed, sustainable approaches.

Vey Law

Vey Law is a reporter at Breakthrough.

Latest from Blog