/Finland’s ‘Be more like a Finn’ campaign joins growing list of tourism pledge initiatives

Finland’s ‘Be more like a Finn’ campaign joins growing list of tourism pledge initiatives

Finland has become the latest destination to introduce a tourism pledge, asking visitors to the country to promise to respect its nature, culture and inhabitants.

Forming part of a wider sustainability drive that focuses on Finnish values and traditions, such as embracing the outdoors, foraging and recycling, the pledge requires visitors to “be more like a Finn” and includes the line “in my choices the climate comes first”.

Iceland claimed to be the first to introduce the idea of inviting tourists to make a specific commitment to behave responsibly in July 2017. A year later it installed a Pledge button at Keflavík airport, to encourage more visitors to agree to leave places as they found them, park and sleep only where permitted but also to “take photos to die for without dying for them” and “When nature calls, I won’t answer the call on nature.”

In December 2017 Palau, in the western Pacific, announced a compulsory conservation pledge to the children of Palau that visitors are required to sign on arrival in the country. In September 2018 Hawaii launched the Pono Pledge, which forms part of a new marketing campaign, revealed this week, that aims to encourage responsible, mindful travel and sustainable tourism. New Zealand’s Tiaki Promise was announced in November 2018 and is now promoted on Air New Zealand flights, in tourist offices and through tour operators. This year, Sonoma County, California laid out plans to get one million tourists to commit to “travel kindly”, part of a strategy aimed at attracting tourists whose values align with the area’s vision for responsible tourism.

Aerial view, Koror, Palau, Micronesia

Koror, Palau, where tourists are required to sign a conservation pledge on arrival. Photograph: Alamy

In the Faroe Islands, the tourist board is calling its new sustainable tourism strategy a Preservolution, which puts “the needs, desires and lifestyle of the Faroese people” at the centre of a tourism manifesto. Instead of a pledge, the Faroes took drastic action earlier this year, closing the islands for a week when it welcomed 100 volunteers – out of 3,500 applicants – who helped repair footpaths alongside local people. The tourist board now plans to make its “Closed for Maintenance” initiative an annual event and is inviting volunteers to sign up for April 2020.

For all these destinations pledges are part of a long-term vision to balance the need for tourism with a determination to protect natural resources but not everyone is convinced as to their real impact. Responsible Travel, an online holiday directory, this week called into question the growing trend among tour operators to offset the holidays they sell – and it is equally doubtful about pledges.

“I’m sceptical because there’s no evidence that they work,” said founder Justin Francis. “Pledges are nothing new: I was studying them 20 years ago when I did a master’s in sustainable tourism. Since then, what we’ve seen most recently is really deteriorating tourism behaviour. Pledges fall short of creating any resources or finances to manage tourism properly.”

Instead of a “superficial” pledge, Francis advocates tourism taxes that create income for the destination, “as long as the money is ringfenced to improve destinations for locals and future tourists”.

This month, Venice confirmed that it will charge daytrippers up to €10pp. The charge does not apply to visitors staying overnight who already pay tax through their hotel.

But Dr Daisy Fan, a lecturer at Bournemouth’s tourism and hospitality department, was less dismissive of pledges, calling them “a good beginning”, though she admits more needs to be done to educate tourists. “It’s about forming a mindset in the visitor at the earliest stage, not at the last minute as they arrive.”

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