The Barents region is an attractive upcoming destination for international tourism. During the past decades the significance of tourism as a source of livelihood has increased. The attractive but fragile arctic environment, natural phenomena and cultural diversity primary attract tourists to the region.
The major challenge for developing tourism in the Barents region is the lack of cross-border cooperation between the four countries of the region. The area is characterized by uneven development among its member countries; Russia, Norway, Finland and Sweden. Some of the overreaching questions are how tourism can better be developed across borders, and how operators and municipalities that want to develop the industry can collaborate.
The Barents region tourism is characterized by irregular development, which means that the region’s future success as a tourist destination will depend on close cooperation and exchange of information. Thus, for the tourism industry to develop economic cooperation across the Barents borders, it will not only be the industry that must be involved, but also local and national political actors. The crucial improvements needed are related to visa handling procedures between Russia and Nordic countries and the availability of infrastructure. Potential visitors will require safe, fast and flexible solutions.
In 2008 the Russian Ministry of Tourism took the initiative to establish the Joint Working Group on Tourism (JWGT). In 2009 the Committee of Senior Officials supported the initiative and the JWGT was established. The JWGT develops multilateral and interdisciplinary cooperation in the Barents tourism industry. The purpose of the group is to resolve challenges’ in the sector and promote economic cross-border development in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region (BEAR). The main tasks of the group are to endorse ecologically, socially and culturally sustainable tourism. The JWGT works both on national and regional level. At the national level information and state policy are provided, involving plans, programs, national legislation and amendments. The regional stage is implementing the co-operation in practice.
The JWGT and Kolarctic-ENPI project on Public-Private Partnership in Barents Tourism (BART) have cooperated creating an Action Plan for Barents Region Tourism Development.
“By articulating the views, needs and demands of Barents entrepreneurs, the Action Plan aims to encourage policy makers in national ministries, government agencies and EU institutions to provide the resources and improve the conditions needed for promoting interregional tourism development”.
Barents Tourism Action Plan, 2013
The Action Plan focuses on five key areas which have been identified as vital to promote interregional tourism development. The areas are cooperation, education and knowledge, accessibility and transportation infrastructure, product development and place identity.
The outcome of the Action Plan was published at the closing seminar of the international BART project which took place in Rovaniemi 17th–18th April 2013. The conclusions of the plan are based on research, and serves policies for cross-border tourism development in BEAR.
According to BART the realization of cross-border tourism promotes the importance of the region as a destination, rather than four individual countries. Trips and activities that include visits in more than one Barents country are likely to attract more tourists to the region, enrich the range of the service offerings and complement their uniqueness.
The JWGT refers to the significance of improving the focus on the Barents region by increasing the international awareness of the area. Promotion of the region will contribute amplified tourism revenue in established businesses and make room for new entrances. By building, developing, and market authentic high quality joint products based on local cultures and traditions, the Barents region can become a sought destination.
“The promotion of tourism across national borders will strengthen human contacts and mutually beneficial economic development with positive effects for employment and business activities”
Kirkenes Declaration, 1993.
Text by Jenny Mikkelsen, IBS
Photos by Hans Hatle, Barents Safari