Text: Päivi Haavisto
The exoticism of winter swimming for the Japanese, pike tiring for the Germans. Or canoeing trips for problem youths and rainbow trout fishing for wheelchair-bound people. Finland wants to promote wellness services and tourism based on water bodies.
Water and water-based nature have a rejuvenating effect on people. Finns are used to enjoying lakeside and seaside living at their holiday homes – boating, canoeing, swimming and fishing. Now the aim is to find new water-based wellness products for tourists and special groups.
“In addition to recreation and tourism, we are working on a concept called Blue Care. We still need to work out its definition and tangible form, but I see it as a parallel to Green Care”, says Research Manager Päivi Eskelinen from the Natural Resources Institute Finland.
Green Care, which as a concept is already familiar to Finns as well, refers to goal-orientated interventions and therapy in natural and rural settings. According to Eskelinen, Blue Care could refer to similar interventions and therapy in water-based settings.
“In the UK, for example, there are accessible fishing destinations for disabled people. Fishing excursions are also offered to people who are recovering from mental disorders. The Finnish Blue Ribbon has also provided fishing services for people who are undergoing rehabilitation after suffering from substance abuse problems in Finland”, Eskelinen explains.
Relatively little research has so far gone into the specific wellness benefits of water. Professor Liisa Tyrväinen from the Natural Resources Institute Finland previously worked at the Finnish Forest Research Institute Metla, where she coordinated a study into the recreational use of forests called Wellness from the Forest, which also covered water bodies. In landscape and environmental appreciation surveys, water bodies and coastal areas have, according to Tyrväinen, stood out as among the favourite environments of people and as places where people go to feel rejuvenated.
Finland to become a leading destination for wellness tourism
Nature-based wellness tourism is a growing industry with global demand. In addition, there are more and more older people among tourists, and they expect safety, high quality and accessibility from tourist destinations.
The Finnish Government Programme identifies promoting recreation and nature-based tourism as one of its objectives. The aim of the FinRelax growth programme, which is funded by the State, is to make Finland a leading destination for wellness tourism. This will be achieved by promoting regional project planning, product development and sales.
The archipelago off the coast of Finland is another priority in terms of tourism. Tourism on the outlying islands is being promoted especially among Central European tourists. More products still need to be developed, as the idea is to also attract tourists to the islands in the winter. The goal is to turn unspoilt nature, peace and quiet, and the sauna culture into luxuries only available in the North.
Service development on nature’s terms
The desire to promote tourism and recreation also underlies a project called VirKein, which the Natural Resources Institute Finland will begin to coordinate in the spring. The aim of the project is to find new ways to promote and ensure the continued use of forests and waters for recreation and tourism. The project is funded by the Finnish Government, and other project partners include the Finnish Environment Institute and the University of Eastern Finland.
The project is due to run for 18 months, and it will involve conducting a comprehensive inventory of the current status of nature-based services.
“Solutions will be tailored to the characteristics of each area. The area around Lake Saimaa, the coast, and rivers in the north of Finland, for example, are all different as tourist destinations”, explains Tyrväinen, who will be the project manager.
The Natural Resources Institute Finland will also contribute to a project aimed at compiling a training programme for nature-based interventions and pedagogy in the Swedish-speaking area of Ostrobothnia. The goal of the programme is to increase Green Care know-how. The training will also cover the application of the Blue Care concept to services in the Kvarken archipelago.
“Finland’s strength lies in its having beautiful, unspoilt nature relatively close to large cities. We have our lakes and we have our archipelago. Even half-day excursions for conference guests or business customers are possible here”, Eskelinen says.
Eskelinen and Tyrväinen emphasise the need to base the recreational use of waters on healthy aquatic ecosystems. The appeal of these kinds of tourist destinations stems from access to unspoilt and clean nature. Although Finland’s waters are healthier now than in the 1970s, the ecological status of some of our waters is poor. More money therefore still needs to be invested in protecting and restoring water bodies, while tourism needs to be promoted on nature’s terms.