Winter tourism faces challenges


Climate change will impede traditional winter tourism operations particularly in Southern Finland where, more often, winter activities must be replaced by summer activities. Instead, in the north, winters remain snowy, which will attract tourists both from Finland and abroad. Shorter and milder winters are likely to cause challenges to tourism businesses.

Framework of winter tourism will change

Since the average temperatures will rise clearly more during the winter than summer, climate change will threaten tourism related to snow and ice in particular. At the same time, extreme cold weather becomes rarer. Climate change also increases rainy weather and the majority of the rain will be water. [1] All these factors cause the snow cover to thin and the number of snowy days to decrease.

There are major regional differences in the changes of the winter conditions. Although winters are expected to become milder and shorter, the best winter conditions will remain in Northern and Eastern Finland. In Central and Western Finland, the winter season will become shorter, and towards south, arrival of winter becomes ever more uncertain. In Southern Finland, the snow cover becomes thinner and snowy days will be reduced the most. [2]

For example, by the end of the century, the depth of snow in Helsinki-Vantaa is estimated to decrease by 78% and in Sodankylä by 48%, if nothing is done to mitigate climate change. [3] On the other hand, in Northern Finland and inland, the amount of snow might actually increase at first if the increased precipitation still comes down as snow due to low temperatures. [1] [4]

A shorter winter season challenges tourism businesses

Tourism businesses should prepare for changes although the snow situation in Northern Finland will remain good compared to the rest of the country. The shorter snowy season will affect the winter tourism in Southern Lapland, Northern Ostrobothnia and Kainuu, in particular. Christmas and New Year are holidays that many Finns and Russians spend in Northern Finland. However, a snowless early winter does not attract tourists: if the snow situation is uncertain, people leave reserving their trips to the last minute and this causes difficulties in planning programme services. [3]

For the tourist businesses, it is of key importance that the winter season begins on time so that the tourist flow remains steady during the entire winter. Winter tourist businesses have already introduced means to ensure that the winter season begins on time. In the future, the significance of artificial snow for outdoor winter activities will increase, especially in Southern, Central and Western Finland. It should be noted however, that rising temperatures increase the costs of artificial snow and also greenhouse gas emissions if the energy used to create the snow is produced with fossil fuels. The tourist industry should therefore be prepared to develop other activities alongside outdoor winter activities and continue summer sports such as canoeing, hiking and golf until later in the season. This will reduce the vulnerability of tourism to climate change.

Snow remains the tourist attraction of the north

Despite the winters becoming milder, snow is estimated to remain the attraction in Northern Finland. More and more Finns living in the south will wish to travel north to experience a real winter. In addition, if the snow line on the Alps and Pyrenees moves higher and winter sport possibilities in Central Europe deteriorate, the number of foreign tourists is expected to rise. Marketing the snowy conditions and maintaining outdoor activities dependent on snow will thus play an important role in attracting travellers from Europe to Finland. [3]

The tourist industry will be faced with new kinds of challenges as the number of winter guests in Northern Finland rises. Combined with the shortening winter season, a larger number of customers will increase the need for seasonal accommodation capacity and workers. [3] In the future, the infrastructure will have to cater for the additional pressure created by the tourists.

Warming climate introduces new risks

Tourist entrepreneurs must prepare for new dangerous situations that mild winters are likely to introduce. For example, the bodies of water and marchlands freeze later and the ice may remain weak. Thus, making skiing tracks on ice must be postponed and snowmobile tracks have to be planned on hard land. [5] [6] Rising temperatures also cause changes to snow constructions: although building from snow is possible even if the temperature is a few degrees above zero, structures are more durable in below zero temperatures.

In addition, slipperiness creates a notable security question. Climate change increases slippery conditions on roads when there is more fluctuation between mild weather conditions and below zero temperatures. In the future, more time and money must be used to fight slippery conditions, especially, since the aging population is likely to suffer more injuries due to slippage. [5]

Over the long term, problems may be created by the fact that an increasing number of tourists will arrive from areas where there is no snow. Therefore, they might not know how to behave in ski slopes, tracks and slippery roads. To maintain the attraction of winter activities, people living in Southern Finland must be able to maintain their skiing and downhill skiing skills. Therefore, downhill skiing centres and ski tracks made with artificial snow near large population centres in Southern Finland are also important for the future of the northern winter tourism industry. [3] [4]

Figure. Children practising skiing at a ski school in Paloheinä, Helsinki.

© Tapio Heikkilä