Tourist organisations in Sweden are business clubs – tourism businesses promoting their own interests. So it shouldn’t be a surprise when you hear that Swedish Lapland tourism board is looking forward to the development of ‘luxury tourism’ in the area.
Let’s just back track a bit here. Swedish Lapland needs a bit of explanation. The concept is entirely for a tourist, since nowhere in Sweden is called ‘Lapland’. There was once a geographical area that had the name ‘Lappland’, but that disappeared long ago along with many other geographical names, the same time use of the word ‘Lapp’ – an old term for the Sami, with negative associations – went out of fashion, for obvious reasons.
None of this bothers Swedish Lapland. They have to explain the concept themselves: well – they say in their press pack – it’s a bit of this and a bit of that. The thing that links the different regions in the area, they say, is the ‘arctic’ cultural lifestyle. Whatever ‘arctic’ means. They claim it isn’t clear what ‘arctic’ means, which makes it a bit easier for them to fudge the issue. I thought it was clear – at least it should mean a place that’s above the arctic circle, surely? But no, to Swedish Lapland that doesn’t matter. Above or below the arctic circle, coastal or inland, it’s all called ‘Swedish Lapland’. It’s a bit puzzling.
It’s true, they admit, that the area they call ‘Swedish Lapland’ is also called ‘Sapmi’ by the Sami – though ‘Sapmi’ is a larger region, crossing several national borders. How very confusing and complicated, they suggest, and inconvenient. Much easier to stick with an area they’ve defined themselves and call it ‘Swedish Lapland’. Though to the Sami there’s nothing at all confusing about their ancestral lands having been carved up by several other countries, and it makes perfect sense to call the area ‘Sapmi’. But the tourism businesses aren’t going to use the term ‘Sapmi’, because it isn’t what they want to promote.
So now we know that ‘Swedish Lapland’ is an area agreed on by a group of tourism businesses and marketed as a concept to tourists. You could almost say it’s a fantasy land, a region that exists in the heads of tourists but not in the head of anyone who lives here.
It’s no surprise to learn, then, that Swedish Lapland is very keen to encourage ‘luxury tourism’. Luxury naturally means more money, more per visitor head expenditure, more profit. That goes without saying. But what else does it mean?
Trying to find out about it by reading around I learn that it certainly means more expenditure – specifically it means shopping. It also means offering tourists what they feel is a unique (‘luxury’) experience. And it means offering the best quality in terms of accommodation, food, and comfort.
Getting a picture of the Swedish northern landscape here? An area where there are few towns, lots of mosquitoes, and lots of snow? No? Me neither.
To offer ‘luxury tourism’ in this part of the world requires investment and development. Places for people to spend money. Shops selling unnecessary luxury items. Hotels a cut above the average. Restaurants catering for every expensive taste. Nothing wrong with that, you might think. But wait a minute, what about Swedish Lapland‘s commitment to Eco-Tourism? Doesn’t that mean protecting the environment from development?
It’s a tricky juggling act but they’re doing their best. Colour brochures and websites sell a funny kind of hybrid tourism that’s friendly to nature, and yet, ‘luxury’. Ideally you keep your luxury tourists away from how local people actually live, and provide them with a small Disneyland of their choice. If there’s development, then you make it look as if it isn’t.
For example, there’s a very attractive development in the forest near Harads. (That’s fifty kilometres south of the arctic circle, but apparently it’s in ‘Swedish Lapland’.) Here there are ‘tree rooms with contemporary design in the middle of unspoiled nature’. There’s a building on hand to provide fine dining in the evenings, and it’s only a ‘short stroll’ from there to your tree room – that has only spoiled nature a little bit then.
Or there are cabins at a new luxury arctic spa hotel, where the designers have ‘incorporated the surrounding nature’ by using stone, wood and leather. Well I get the stone, but wood is in short supply above the tree line, and as for leather – have you ever seen a cow in the arctic? But it all looks very tasteful and commands a high per-night price. It also comes at an environmental price, but that isn’t mentioned in the marketing.
It seems to pass some people by that the most eco-friendly building is one that’s already there. No amount of bio fuel and solar panels make up for the damaging nature of wanting to be in your own private universe.
But to really understand the absurdity of ‘luxury tourism’, look no further than a company selling ‘ecological’ domes. Cleverly, these buildings avoid classification as development because they’re registered as boats. They can be placed on the ice on lakes, so there’s no need for planning permission. For the people sitting inside the view is perfect – that is until there are lots of other domes littering the lake view.
Described as ‘eco-friendly’ with solar panels and bio fuel heating, there’s naturally no mention of the environmental costs of constructing them. It’s unlikely the guests will ski or hike out to them, so non-environmentally friendly vehicles will be required to bring them there, and back. It will be hard to leave them somewhere for any length of time because of the changing ice conditions, so each time they are transported they will need to be towed by a snow scooter or motor boat, and to go any distance will need to be towed by car. (I saw one on the road today – they are so wide that the towing vehicle was preceded by a warning vehicle – so moving them actually takes two vehicles.)
They’re marketed as an easy way of running a tourist business. Photographs show a couple lying inside the glass bubble, bare toes wiggling in the warmth, watching aurora through the panes. No need to go out in the cold, no need to meet anyone living there, no need to walk anywhere or experience any hardship. No exposure to the real environment necessary – luxury!