Rethinking Arctic tourism: tourists' practices and perceptions of the Arctic in Rovaniemi

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, auditorium L10. Remote connection:

Topic of the dissertation

Rethinking Arctic tourism: tourists' practices and perceptions of the Arctic in Rovaniemi

Doctoral candidate

Master of Arts Alix Varnajot

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Science, Geography Research Unit

Subject of study



Professor Dallen Timothy, Arizona State University


Professor Jarkko Saarinen, University of Oulu

Add event to calendar

There is a need for rethinking the concept of Arctic tourism

Tourism in the Arctic has undergone considerable growth and the Arctic in emerging as a popular destination, although tourism in the Arctic has existed for over two centuries. Nevertheless, Arctic tourism is a concept that has been substantially used in academic literature, policy documents, and tourism promotion materials, although there is no current consensus on its definition. The term, often taken for granted, generally refers to tourism in and about the Arctic, wherein the Arctic is characterized by static and external views, overlooking its rich diversity in terms of cultures, landscapes, climates and environments. In this study, my interest is in the reconceptualization of Arctic tourism, based on studies about tourist experiences at the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi.

This dissertation contributes to literature on tourist experiences in the Arctic, a topic that has not received a lot of attention in the past, but one that has significant relevance in terms of tourists’ decision-making in response to Arctic communities’ efforts to attract visitors and stimulate regional tourism development. The chosen case study did not consist of a simple location, but of a specific ritual performed and reproduced by tourists: the crossing of the Arctic Circle. In the tourism industry, Arctic Circle landmarks are commonly represented as gateways to the Arctic, and crossing the line signifies entering the region. As such, this particular performance crystallizes tourists’ representations of the Arctic. This study aims to investigate these crystallized representations and is based on empirical materials consisting of qualitative data gathered from multiple ethnographies and secondary materials comprising academic literature, policy documents and promotional tourism materials.

The results indicate that in Rovaniemi, from the tourist perspective, the Arctic is experienced as a nebulous regions with no proper boundaries. Tourists do not perceive the Arctic Circle as an absolute border for the Arctic, despite heavy promotion and the performance of border-crossing postures. Rather, the magical line is considered as one of the many items encompassed by the vague representation of what the Arctic is. In addition, it is argued that from the tourists’ perspective, proper Arctic experiences should be winter-based, which is the foundation for the ‘cryospheric gaze’ concept developed in this dissertation as the definition for current Arctic tourism. Toward the end of the thesis, the future of Arctic tourism is discussed in relation to climate change and the development of ‘post-Arctic regions’. It explores challenges in terms of equal access to snow, of stereotypical images of the Arctic becoming burdensome for local communities and how current forms of Arctic tourism can still be offered to tourists in ‘cryosphericless’ regions that have built themselves into Arctic tourism destinations.
Last updated: 1.3.2023