Press release 07.09.2006
Emphasis on the use of forests for recreation and tourism is growing, for more than a million visits are made each day merely to the national parks in Finland. According to a study conducted at Metla on how the national parks attract visitors, people choose their destination on the basis of the scenery and nature, the accessibility and the available services. An ample supply of services in the park and in the surrounding areas correlates with high visitor numbers.
Identifying the factors that attract visitors helps the planning of conservation areas, because the effects on income and employment figures also affect the regional economy. Visitors to the national parks often use the services supplied in the surrounding areas, such as accommodation and restaurant services. As for internal services in the national parks, the number of marked trails and guidance services were considered the most important. The number of camp-fire sites, huts and possibilities for recreational activities were also felt to be significant.
In this study the national parks were classified into three groups according to the level of services supplied. In parks established to protect mires there were less than average services for hikers. An average level of services was provided in several national parks based on forests and waterways. The parks located in Lapland or near big cities were able to provide the most versatile services for hikers.
According to the ”National inventory on recreational use of nature” (NIRUN), a population-based study conducted by Metla, the users of state-owned areas are evenly distributed in all parts of Finland. Every fifth Finn uses state-owned areas, such as the national parks and wilderness areas, for recreational purposes. On average, visitors spend seven days per year on visits to these areas.
The typical profile of a recreational user of state-owned areas is a male white-collar employee with a university degree. Typical visitors are generally active in outdoor sports, especially cross-country skiing and camping. Other factors making a person a likely frequent visitor to these areas are living in a big town and having plenty of free time. As the most important reasons for their visits the respondents listed the following: experiencing nature and the scenery, relaxation and letting-go from routines, and the possibility to spend time with other people.
The volume of nature tourism directed to the national parks has been multiplied during the past few decades. The growth has been strongest in northern Finland. In their collaborative studies, the University of Oulu and Metla have measured the ecological effects of tourism. The results have shown that the ground and bottom layer vegetation in the northern areas are easily destroyed by trampling. Vegetation is damaged and especially vascular plants rapidly and totally disappear even if the number of hikers is low. The impact of trampling on the coverage of lichen and mosses is delayed. When the number of visitors are higher than the susceptibility of vegetation, forward planning is emphasized at the stage of building the infrastructure for nature tourism. In practice this means building footbridges and marking the trails.
The attitudes of the local population towards nature tourism were also investigated in the study. The attitudes were found mainly positive, because the conservation areas were locally considered to improve the provisions for tourism and hence to increase income and employment rates. The inhabitants’ felt that the numbers of tourists could be increased, as long as tourism is based on environmentally friendly activities.
The results were published in the METSO Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland research report.