Companies in Santa Claus Village investing in sustainable tourism

Companies in Santa Claus Village investing in sustainable tourism

Companies in Santa Claus Village investing in sustainable tourism

Bearhill Husky, Member of Santa Claus Village’s Cooperative, received the Sustainable Travel Finland label

Rovaniemi-based Bearhill Husky (Kontiovaaran Husky Oy) is the first member of Santa Claus Village’s Cooperative to receive the prestigious Sustainable Travel Finland label.

Bearhill Husky is a family business founded by Valentijn Beets and Veronika Butinova in 2003. Their head office is on the shores of beautiful Lake Viiksjärvi, about 25 km from the centre of Rovaniemi. The company also has a site in Santa Claus Village on the Arctic Circle. Offering husky safaris and other sled dog-related experiences, Bearhill Husky is also one of Rovaniemi’s first service companies to gain the Green Activities certification.

Veronika Butinova can be considered one of the pioneers of sustainable tourism in Lapland, as the idea has fascinated her for more than two decades. At the turn of the century, Butinova studied the business of tourism at Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences. In 2000, she was offered the opportunity of a student exchange in Edinburgh, Scotland. Napier University was one of the first schools in Europe to offer academic courses related to sustainable tourism, while at the same time, public awareness of the matter elsewhere was very much still in its infancy.

In Scotland, the sustainable tourism bug bit Butinova, who also had access to the first theoretical tools to analyse and approach the theme. However, Butinova emphasizes that the implementation of the principles of sustainable tourism is more than just theory, it’s full of everyday choices and smaller environmental actions. To her, tourism companies should not view sustainable tourism as only public relations and even less as a financial burden, as it can bring clear cost savings to businesses in the long run. Additionally, high-quality and sustainable purchases often provide better user experiences and last longer. Undeniably, the implementation of the principles of sustainable tourism also increases the motivation and significance of the work for entrepreneurs and their employees.

Sustainable tourism is not just about ecology and reducing CO2 emissions

Butinova’s childhood did not include abundant materialism, as she grew up in the Russian Karelia during the so-called perestroika period.

—There was no misery in my childhood, but there was a certain kind of material scarcity, says Butinova.

However, this also taught her to save, recycle and do less, and to look at things materialistically as well as from different perspectives.

From the beginning, Bearhill Husky has strived to do things in a socially and ecologically sustainable way. Butinova emphasizes that sustainable tourism is not just about ecology or minimizing carbon footprints from tourism, but that it is something much broader, which includes, for example, animal and worker welfare and corporate social responsibility as part of the local community.

The customers of the future demand more sustainable tourism

Butinova says she could not even imagine providing services that don’t seek to respect the principles of sustainable tourism. If a tourism business wants to succeed in the long run, and if entrepreneurs and employees want to see their work as meaningful, sustainable values are practically the only option, Butinova believes.

Bearhill Husky is the first company in Santa Claus Village to get the appreciated Sustainable Travel Finland- label.
Bearhill Husky is the first company in Santa Claus Village to get the appreciated Sustainable Travel Finland- label.

No tourism business can operate on a long-term basis if it does not respect the surrounding natural ecosystem and community. Sustainable tourism does not involve maximising profits, but the highest reward for the entrepreneurs must come from somewhere else, such as being able to provide tourists with memorable experiences that respect nature, animals and the local community, Butinova says.

According to Butinova, sustainable tourism is also a necessity for Lapland’s tourism companies in the long run, as the current generation of European children and young people are already strongly educated at school about environmental issues such as respect for animals, fighting climate change and recycling. These future generations of consumers will certainly demand sustainable operations from tourism businesses.

There is always room for improvements in operations

Butinova feels that sustainable tourism is a path that never ends, because things can always be done better from an environmental, community and animal welfare perspective. And there are always new better practices to learn. Butinova cites her husband as an example of continuous learning. Valentijn Beets, or Vallu, constantly searches the internet for new information related to the well-being of sled dogs. Thanks to this process, for example, Bearhill Husky’s sled dog kennel has been purposefully developed in a direction aimed at optimising animal welfare and stimuli.

The company has also made a concrete effort to model and calculate the CO2 emissions of its own operations. The aim of the modelling is, of course, to help Bearhill Husky find the most effective and concretely verifiable ways to reduce the company’s CO2 emissions and thus combat climate change.

Offering activities all year around is an important part of sustainable tourism.
Offering activities all year around is an important part of sustainable tourism.

On a practical level, Bearhill Husky strives to take sustainable development into account as widely as possible in its operations. For example, the company strives to be as carbon neutral as possible in its operations. In accordance with this policy, the Viiksjärvi premises are heated with ecological geothermal heat and wood that is sustainably harvested from their own forest. As for electricity, Bearhill Husky uses wind power generated in the northern corners of Europe, and recycling has been taken as far as possible within the company.

Butinova and Beets also own more than a hundred acres of forest. This northern coniferous forest is of great importance to the company as it is one of Bearhill Husky’s strengths in the company’s long-term goal of making its operations carbon neutral. In their own forest, the routes of the sled dogs run naturally, and the aim is to make it a real “carbon sink,” where the widest possible biodiversity also flourishes.

However, Butinova understands that in the fight against climate change, Bearhill Husky’s actions alone are not enough. CO2 emissions associated with traveling to Lapland must also be reduced. She hopes in the future that consumers will increasingly invest in so-called “slow travel.” Slow travel involves less frequent holiday trips but longer stays on site, and efforts to make more sustainable use of local services.

Reducing CO2 emissions from aviation is an important issue, likely to be addressed through technological innovation

When a tourist holidays in remote Lapland, making the trip via airplane, most of their carbon footprint comes from flying. Individual tourism companies in Lapland, such as Bearhill Husky, are mainly able to optimise their own operations to minimise on-site tourists’ CO2 emissions.

According to Butinova, airlines must also be responsible for their own actions and think about how they can compensate or develop their own operations. There is really a lot of pressure on airlines at the moment to reduce CO2 emissions, so they are forced into activity. It is also worth mentioning that during the quiet time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some airlines have given up their old aircraft and acquired better, more environmentally friendly aircraft. Additionally, Butinova hopes that when it comes to conscientious consumers who care, they will take responsibility for their own travel activities, by for example choosing low-emission airlines and paying voluntary carbon compensations.

More and more companies in Santa Claus Village are using so called green electricity.
More and more companies in Santa Claus Village are using so called green electricity.

Butinova also considers travel by train very important but regrets that very little listening is done to Lapland’s tourism companies in the development of train connections in northern Finland. The development of train connections between the north and south and the shortening of travel times have progressed painfully slowly in the 21st century, Butinova says.

In the long run, the solution to radically reducing carbon dioxide emissions caused by tourism will certainly be found through technological innovation, Butinova believes. It is likely that more and more energy-efficient machines will be used for air transport in the future, as well as more biofuels and synthetic fuels, produced mainly from renewable energy sources. The rising hydrogen economy may also drastically reduce CO2 emissions from aviation in the long run, Butinova estimates. For example, planes using green hydrogen may be flying between Helsinki and Lapland as early as the beginning of next decade.

Other companies in Santa Claus Village also investing in sustainable tourism

Sustainable development and especially the fight against climate change are taken seriously in Santa Claus Village, says the cooperative’s busiest elf, Antti Nikander. However, Nikander is humble and realizes that only in recent years have real concrete steps been taken in the Arctic Circle. But he estimates that they’re moving in the right direction.

Most of Santa Claus Village companies understand that everyone, both nature and consumers, entrepreneurs and the local community, are winners in Lapland’s tourism when conducted in accordance with the principles of sustainable development.

The Premium cottages of Santa Claus Holiday Village are heated using special ecological geothermal energy and green electricity.
The Premium cottages of Santa Claus Holiday Village are heated using special ecological geothermal energy and green electricity.

As an example of sustainable tourism in Santa Claus Village, Nikander cites that all five service cars of Santa Claus Holiday Village use green electricity produced from renewable energy sources such as water, wind and bioenergy. In addition to this, the newest so-called Premium cottages offered by Santa Claus Holiday Village are heated using special ecological geothermal energy and green electricity. Other older holiday cottages also use environmentally friendly district heating.

As a third example, Nikander mentions that more and more member companies of Santa Claus Village Cooperative have switched to using so-called green electricity.

Santa Claus Village Cooperative also organises sustainable tourism training for companies in the area, and a sustainable tourism guidebook for the companies in the Arctic Circle is just publisded, says Nikander. However, Antti emphasises that Santa Claus Village and its companies still have a long way to go on the road to sustainable tourism. And that the sustainable tourism contract is practically never complete, as there are always new opportunities to do things better from an environmental, local community and animal welfare perspective.

Nikander also believes that over the next 12 months, several other companies in the Santa Claus Village Cooperative will receive the Sustainable Travel Finland label. One of Nikander’s dreams is to make Santa Claus Village one of Finland’s first major carbon-neutral tourism destinations in the long run.