Commercialization of nature through tourism

Abstract: This dissertation contributes to developing knowledge on the commercialization of natural resources through tourism. This is achieved by means of understanding the main avenues through which natural resources are commercialized, and analyzing the operational setting of tourism firms. The focal area is nature-based tourism– a type of tourism, taking place incomparatively unmodified natural areas, which has emerged as a powerful gravitational force, integrating an increasing variety of natural resources into the commercial domain. The point of departure is the assumption that fornature-based tourism firms, nature is simultaneously the main object of commercialization and the operational setting, where this commercialization happens. The attention here is, therefore, on the supply side, i.e. on the smalland micro firms, acting as the agents of commercialization. The empirical data come primarily from a nation-wide survey among the nature-based tourism firms in Sweden, generating the most comprehensive information about this sector to date. Additional data come from in-depth interviews and observations among the nature-based tourism firms in Sweden, as well assecondary sources (official statistics on natural resources and a survey in Norway).This is a compilation thesis, i.e. it consists of a cover essay and five individual papers. The cover essay offers a bird’s eye view on all the papers, frames them theoretically and synthesizes all the findings into a coherent contribution. Papers I and II create the foundation, necessary for understanding the processes of nature commercialization and the operational setting of naturebased tourism firms, while Papers III, IV and V provide supplementary insights into these areas of inquiry. Paper I starts by building on existing knowledge in outdoor recreation to approach nature-based tourism. Paper II focuses on the operational setting, conceptualizes and explores its dimensions. Building on this, Paper III looks at how the presence of various amenities in the operational setting can explain the localization patterns of the firms on various geographical levels. Paper IV focuses on the operational setting dimensions omitted in the previous papers, i.e. the continuous efforts of the firms to negotiate the inherent uncertainty within the setting. Finally, Paper V looks at various characteristics of nature-based tourism firms to understand the specifics of sustainability strategies.The main findings in these five papers demonstrate that the nature-basedtourism is an active integrator of a wide variety of natural resources into the commercial domain, and approaching them from the supply perspective provides an additional understanding of the sector. This approach suggests that the nature-based tourism supply could be understood not only from the perspectives of tourist activities offered, but also from the perspective of operational setting preferences (e.g., the axes of high-low specialization, and high-low dependence on specific setting features), providing a new insight into the ways of nature commercialization through tourism. The operational setting itself becomes an important resource, being simultaneously part of the supply and the environment of a tourism system, bringing together a multitude of dimensions and actors. The resources nature-based tourism depends on defy ‘commercialization-friendly’ criteria, creating a context of uncertainty and demanding higher levels of creativity and agency on behalf of the firms. Commercialized nature experiences become important not only for specialized, skill- and equipment-intensive activities, but also for rather simple and relaxed ones, on both international and domestic markets. This suggests the growing importance of commercial nature-based tourism, linked to growing sustainability challenges. The sustainable resource use within the Scandinavian nature-based tourism context, however, is deeply entrenched inunique local specifics, and the entrepreneurial characteristics are not always compatible with market-based sustainability policies, suggesting the need for more fine-tuned approaches.