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6. Conclusions

For this study, we gathered a sizable amount of research material consisting of 35 interviews with tourism experts from different Nordic countries and autonomous areas, 10 case studies of best practices, a workshop with 16 participants from across the Nordic countries and autonomous areas, a survey with 480 responses from tourism sector enterprises and organizations and a desk study of research and statistics of domestic tourism in the Nordic countries. This extensive research material enables us to explore the issues related to domestic tourism and its development in the Nordic countries and autonomous areas by triangulating several types of evidence. In the conclusions, we present findings that are based on insights gained from different research materials and/or different countries. This adds the validity of our findings but limits the extent of our conclusions to a more general level.
The lack of research literature and comparable statistical data of domestic tourism in the Nordic countries means that there was a limited amount of material available for country level comparisons. Additionally, given the pan-Nordic explorative nature of this project, we did not attempt to gather a representative sample of tourism organisations in our survey. The small number of responses, especially from Norway, Denmark and autonomous areas, makes country or regional level comparisons of the survey data unreliable and cross-tabulations by, for example, the business sector of the enterprise impossible. All in all, our survey results do not give a representative view of the individual countries and represent the opinions of the respondents, not necessarily the industry as a whole. Hence, we have mainly refrained from doing detailed country comparisons of survey results and if country comparisons are done, we add insights from other materials as well. Additionally, a target group analysis with a survey for consumers in each Nordic country would have strengthened the results but was beyond the scope of this project.
For these reasons, our conclusions in this report are on a more general level, and we cannot give clear country-specific policy recommendations. Yet, there is much more detailed country and case-specific information contained in the country reports that are annexed to this report. This information can be useful for tourism sector organisations in specific situations or specific countries, and we encourage interested readers to take a closer look.  Additionally, the survey results, aggregated to a country level, are included in the annex, although when looking at these, one must bear in mind the low number of responses especially from certain countries and autonomous areas.

6.1. The value of domestic tourism in the Nordic countries

In this study, we set out to increase the understanding of the value of domestic tourism in the Nordic countries. This is achieved mostly through looking at statistical information. Our findings indicate that domestic tourism is very significant in all continental Nordic countries regardless of the indicator examined. When looking at the most widely available and comparable statistic, nights spent in hotels, holiday resorts, youth hostels and camping sites, in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden domestic tourists already counted for around two thirds of all overnights before Covid-19 pandemic and the share rose to over 80 per cent during the pandemic. Overnight data used do not include holiday cottages and commercially arranged rentals in private cottages and apartments, which can be significant in the context of domestic tourism. Moreover, same-day trips or visitors spending nights at a friend’s house, or a privately owned summer cottage are not included in overnight data, and, in the case of domestic tourism, these groups form a large share of all visitors. Hence, the total volume of domestic tourism is even higher than the overnight statistics indicate.
High volume of domestic tourism in the continental Nordic countries is reflected in its economic impact. Domestic tourists tend to spend less money individually, but in total they made up around two thirds of tourism consumption before the pandemic in continental Nordic countries. During the Covid-19 crisis, the share rose to three quarters in Denmark and Sweden and close to 90 per cent in Norway and Finland in 2020 and, according to available preliminary results, is expected to stay on these higher levels in 2021. The difference between the continental Nordic countries could be partly explained by the geography and accessibility from Europe in Denmark and less strict pandemic-related restrictions in the case of Sweden, though verifying this would need additional country-specific research.
In Iceland and the autonomous areas, the share of domestic tourism in overnights and its direct economic impact is smaller compared to continental Nordic countries. Yet, according to our research material, the significance of domestic tourism is larger than the numbers indicate. Domestic travellers in all Nordic countries and autonomous areas use tourism services during off-seasons for inbound tourism. Even if the volume of domestic tourism is lower than during the main season, this helps tourism companies to retain key staff members and a part of the revenue during times when there are fewer inbound tourists. Loss of inbound tourism during the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted this effect also in Iceland and autonomous areas where the significance of domestic tourism market was smaller before the pandemic. According to our material, domestic tourism also makes tourism industry more familiar and socially acceptable amongst the local population in general.

6.2 The potential of domestic tourism in the Nordic area in a post-Covid world

Additionally, this study aimed to map the potential of increasing domestic tourism in the Nordics and explore the value that the tourism sector actors give domestic tourism in the post-Covid world. For these aims, our research material does not allow for very specific quantitative predictions and the findings are more general in nature. Additional research, in the form of foresight and scenario building for example, could enhance our results. Unfortunately, it was beyond the scope of this study.
The Covid-19 pandemic showed the immense potential of domestic tourism in the Nordic countries. Looking at our data on overnights, the number of domestic tourists in all Nordic countries and autonomous areas has stabilised to a level that is at least slightly higher than before the pandemic. However, the survey respondents and the experts we interviewed had differing views of the future. Most interviewees and survey respondents saw the potential of domestic tourism and thought that it will grow in the future. Yet, as some interviewees pointed out, this depends on future developments. Recovery of outbound tourism after Covid-19 decreases interest towards domestic tourism, but on the other hand, the worsening economic situation might increase it again. Additionally, many interviewees recognised the transformation of the tourism industry towards a more sustainable mode of operation identified in research literature as one reason to expect domestic tourism to grow in the future.
What almost everyone agreed on was that the Covid-19 pandemic served as an eye opener for the significance of domestic tourism in the Nordic countries and autonomous areas. Interest towards the domestic market has grown, though in the survey tourism enterprises show less interest than business support organisations and DMOs. Pandemic also highlighted the significance of coordinated development of the domestic tourism sector. Only a handful of survey respondents thought that there is no need to coordinate domestic tourism development.

6.3 Key findings

Our main findings in this report are based on the analysing the different research material gathered in this project together. Below we summarise the results into seven key findings on how the tourism sector actors could realise the potential of domestic tourism. Given the scope of the study, these findings are rather general in nature and their application in individual countries or cases still needs a more concrete plan from the tourism sector actors on different levels. However, they should help both private and public sector actors in planning and coordinating domestic tourism development.
Whenever possible, we indicate if the action should take place in local, regional, national, or Nordic level. Yet, nature of our research does not allow to make country-specific recommendations with clearly stated responsible actors in each country. Individual country reports and case studies can offer detailed insights for organisations in certain countries or situations. In this final report, we present the more general findings applicable in different Nordic countries and autonomous areas.

1. There is a need for more research focusing on domestic tourism in the Nordic countries.

The Covid-19 pandemic made the domestic tourists the main target group for the tourism sector. This sudden change revealed the lack of information about and research on domestic markets in the Nordic countries. There is a need for more data that is aggregated to domestic and inbound components and an even more dire need for research that uses and interprets this data. Our research gives insight into the issue of domestic tourism in the Nordic context, but more detailed national information about the needs and flows of domestic tourists, especially same-day visitors, is needed. This could be done by making more aggregated data in tourism satellite accounts available or by conducting target group surveys targeted at consumers, preferably in a way that the data is comparable across the Nordic countries and autonomous areas. Additionally, domestic tourism development on a larger scale could be supported with the creation of scenario-based foresight studies of future developments.
In our study, the lack of information about domestic tourism target groups and preferences was especially highlighted by DMOs and business support organisations. Developing the products and marketing is not possible without knowledge of the preferences of domestic tourists. Hence, to better support tourism enterprises to increase the number of domestic tourists using their services, more research is required.
This was also made clear in our case studies, where one of the key lessons was the importance of utilising data in product development and marketing campaigns. This can be done by using pre-existing data, if it is available, or it can be gathered as a pre-study phase for a project. These data gathering projects could therefore be attached to larger national marketing projects.

2. Domestic tourists in the Nordics love nature and value quality over quantity.

Our results indicate that there are some subtle differences between the preferences of domestic tourists in the Nordics, but they are overshadowed by strong similarities. Survey results as well as interviewed experts point out that love of nature and nature tourism as well as appreciation of good products and services are things most commonly connecting domestic tourists throughout the Nordic countries and autonomous areas.
Additionally, domestic tourists in the Nordic countries can be cost conscious at times. Closer examination of our research material indicates that this does not necessarily mean domestic tourists are not willing to pay for a service or product they see fitting their needs, but that domestic tourists are more aware of the cost-quality ratio and the general price level. Domestic tourists expect the quality of the service or product to match the price and to suit their needs.
Hence, when developing services or products for domestic tourists – or for tourists from other Nordic countries – there needs to be an emphasis on quality over quantity. The content of the service or product needs to befit the target group. In addition to the general interest towards nature tourism, there seem to be quite similar niche markets in all the Nordic countries. Given the similarities of preferences of domestic tourists, products developed to fit domestic market in one Nordic country can quite readily be marketed to similar target groups in other Nordic countries as well.

3. Developing tourism products and services for the domestic market can support inbound tourism development.

Traditionally, the development of tourism services and products has been done first and foremost with inbound tourists in mind. These services and products can then be adapted to fit the domestic market as well, as was seen during the Covid-19 crisis, often by rebranding, adding a more individualised service or creating a more authentic product. According to our results, this could also be conceptualised in reverse: creating products and services that fit domestic tourists in the Nordic countries could support inbound tourism development as well.
According to our interviews and case studies, nature, authenticity, and culture are important for domestic tourists in all the Nordic countries and autonomous areas. The services and products developed for domestic tourists should reflect these preferences. Creating high quality services that emphasize quality over quantity also accommodates the increased interest towards sustainable and responsible modes of tourism that was identified as one of the key pull factors for domestic tourism in the survey as well as in the interviews. Additionally, Nordic domestic tourists are also tech savvy and accustomed to using digital services. The coverage of high-capacity telecommunications networks is good in the Nordic countries, and the cost of connecting is low. Domestic markets can thus be used as testbeds for creating new digital solutions for the tourism industry, as is evident in our case studies.
Given that sustainability and digitalization are rising trends of the tourism sector in all the Nordic countries, tourisms services and products developed for the domestic market are also well suited for travellers from other Nordic countries. These products and services also fit the wider transformation of the tourism industry from business models based on high volume with inherent risk of overtourism towards a more sustainable mode of operation identified in the research literature.

4. Increasing marketing to domestic tourists in the short term and in the long term.

Marketing was clearly the most often mentioned measure in the survey, when asked for measures that would either help tourism enterprises to better meet the needs of domestic tourists or that would benefit domestic tourism regionally. Marketing was the preferred method to develop domestic market of both tourism enterprises and business support organisations and second on the list for DMOs as well.
The behavioural patterns of domestic tourists observed in country cases and interviews reveal that there are two types of marketing that could be done to increase the number of domestic tourists. Firstly, marketing to domestic tourists can be done in the short term to take advantage of the quick decision times of domestic tourists. This could mean narrowly targeted digital campaigns that can be quickly launched based on weather patterns or the availability of services. This type of marketing would mostly be done on a local level and by the tourism enterprises.
Secondly, there is a need for more long-term marketing to promote domestic traveling in general. This can be done on a regional level, where DMOs can promote their own destinations. On the other hand, there is also a need for national marketing campaigns to increase the number of people who decide to travel domestically. These marketing campaigns should utilize the pull factors identified in our survey and interviews, of which interest towards nature tourism and sustainable and responsible modes of tourism were the most visible.

5. More cooperation on the local and regional level is required to realise the potential of domestic tourism in the Nordic countries and autonomous areas.  

The Covid-19 pandemic made the significance of domestic tourism abundantly clear in all the Nordic countries and autonomous areas.  With the travel restrictions introduced during the Covid-19 crisis, domestic tourists were suddenly the most important target group for the whole tourism industry. This also made coordination in developing the domestic tourism sector, or rather the lack of it, visible. 
According to interviews, before the pandemic, domestic tourism was mostly overlooked in favour of the inbound tourism when developing tourism marketing, services, and products. Even in rural areas, where larger share of visitors is typically domestic, the development efforts were mostly directed towards increasing inbound tourism. In Iceland and autonomous areas this lack of interest can be explained by the much higher volume of the inbound tourism market, but in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden the domestic market was responsible for most of the economic impact of the tourism sector already before the pandemic. Our research material does not offer specific reasons why developing domestic market was a low priority effort in continental Nordic countries as well, but the interviews suggest that domestic tourism was seen as an everyday phenomenon developing on its own and inbound tourism was thought to be more a lucrative target for development. Additionally, inbound tourism can be thought of as an export industry that enhances the trade balance of national economy and hence public support for developing inbound tourism is easier to justify.
There was some cooperation in domestic tourism development on a sub-national level in different Nordic countries before the pandemic, but the loss of inbound tourists due to the travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic served as a catalyst for a breakthrough of domestic tourism to the agendas of local and regional actors across the Nordic countries and autonomous areas. The tourism sector organisations in the survey and the experts interviewed also saw a need for further coordination and cooperation in domestic tourism development, especially on a regional level. The companies who responded the survey identified a need for creating regional opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of experiences as well as for creating offerings for the domestic market. Our case studies include several examples of successful regional development programs, typically initiated by regional DMOs.

6. National development of domestic tourism should utilise structures created during the pandemic to strengthen the resilience of the tourism sector.

The lack of coordination of domestic tourism development was especially clear on the national level. Before the pandemic, the main national tourism development organisations in all the Nordic countries and autonomous areas were focused in promoting the country to inbound tourists. There were some nascent attempts of creating national level coordination in developing domestic tourism before the pandemic in some Nordic countries, but the border closures and travel restrictions served as a starting point for more concentrated national efforts.
During the pandemic, national efforts to increase domestic tourism were activated in all Nordic countries and autonomous areas. National marketing campaigns were created, often including some support mechanisms for enterprises or economic incentives for travellers. Our case studies include several examples of these types of practices. Additionally, many Nordic countries expanded the mandate of the main tourism promotion organisations to include domestic markets as well. Campaigns created during the pandemic were, however, typically temporary in nature. At the time of this study, it is unclear if this change on the national level towards the domestic market will produce lasting structures for domestic tourism development.
According to our results, the interest of tourism sector organisations towards the domestic market has risen in all the Nordic countries and autonomous areas, although the recovery of international tourism – both outbound and inbound – might affect this. Most interviewed experts and survey respondents expressed views that domestic tourism should remain in the agenda of the tourism sector developers in all the Nordic countries. The national structures created during the pandemic can serve as platforms for further cooperation and should at least remain in a state where they can be activated in case of loss of inbound tourism. This would enhance the resilience of the tourism sector to sudden crisis. Our research suggests that increasing the number of domestic tourists helped the companies to survive and even grow during the pandemic.
Additionally, national level coordination structures could help tourism sector to manage the consequences of the possible transformation of the industry caused by long-term trends like rising costs of transportation and the rise of sustainable traveling. Also, when domestic travellers use tourism services, it makes the whole industry more acceptable nationally, thus increasing the possibilities of developing the industry in the future.  

7. Nordic level cooperation in developing domestic tourism should be initiated to share experiences.

Even if developing domestic tourism is mostly seen as a national endeavour, Nordic cooperation raised interest in our interviews as well as in the survey. Information sharing and developing new ideas could also be done in Nordic-wide networks. The similarities in the tourist preferences in the Nordic countries – especially the common interest in nature and outdoor activities – were seen as a great base on which to build cooperation.
This is especially true in border regions, like Tornedalen or Öresund region, where domestic tourists come from several Nordic countries. According to the interviews, national borders have been hindering the development of domestic tourism in the border regions and Covid-19 was especially disruptive of the normal movement of tourists over the borders, thus increasing the need for cross-border cooperation in case of future crisis.