Does Finland ever learn?

Visit Finland made a film. In cooperation with Finnair. It’s their newest marketing film for the Asian markets, published last week. Unfortunately, with this film VF managed to fail big time. Or maybe not really big time, since the film would be more than ok and make its point clear even without the fail moments. Without those, it might even get ***** from me.

After publishing, it didn’t take long  for the Sami in Finland to point out that the way their culture is presented in the film is not respectful, nor acceptable. It might not be clear for someone outside Lapland, but for someone who’s lived there and seen the struggle, the problem with this film is pretty obvious.

In general, the film is ok. As a tourism researcher and marketing professional, I see the potential. I also like the sceneries, because, hey, that’s my “home” and I can easily associate myself with the blonde girl skiing in the mountais. But. The way Visit Finland presents Sami culture in this film… One could say its pure exploitation. Watching the film over and over and trying to ask (in Twitter, with no success) why they chose to do it this way and why they do not see the point taking the film down or modify it (what I’d expect a organization sensitive about its brand and image would do) it becomes clear that Visit Finland do not respect the culture nor want to take constructive role in its working environment and among its stakeholders.

The discussion has been there for years, the discussion about the way Sami and other minority cultures, aboriginals etc. are exploited in disrespectful manner by the tourism industry and “outsiders” in general, and how this should be stopped and how the practices should be changed. About how their voice should be heard and views taken into account, if and when they are used in marketing and tourism, by the industry and for the industry. These days, we they really should know how to do it and why to do it that way and not this way.

Visit Finland is an integral part of Finpro, a registered association almost 100 per cent funded by the Finnish Government. Finpro helps Finnish SME companies that represent a multitude of lines of industry and business. The aim is to help companies attract foreign investments to Finland, become more international in their line of work and, more recently, promote Finland as an attractive tourist destination to a world-wide audience.

Finland is a unique, non-mainstream holiday choice. It is, in an exceptional way, a passionate and uncompromising country. Visit Finland works to increase awareness of Finland as a tourist destination, especially among modern humanists.

Visit Finland

Ok,VF values do not include respectful, nor culturally aware, nor sustainable. So, maybe we should just accept that this is the way they like their brand to be – ignorant and disrespectful. And while we talk about organization funded by our government, we could say that this is the way our country would like to be seen. This is the image they want to present to the public. Sad.

It makes me wonder, if and when VF continues to repeat the same mistakes over and over, how can they expect the tourism industry to be respected and supported by other industries, environments and communities in which it operates. How does it expect the modern humanists, which it says it’s targeting with the activities, to reflect on this not so responsible practice.

The marketing activities are targeted towards modern humanists. Modern humanists have already seen the world’s metropolises. They appreciate quality of life, pure nature and responsibility. That is exactly what Finland offers.

Visit Finland

Responsibility. “This is exactly what Finland offers.” Does it? Does it really? Because it doesn’t really show, at least not in this video.Respect and understanding are very important elements of sustainable tourism development. If and when you want to be constructive, you should respect the ones you are working with and from which you want to benefit. Or does VF really think that it can just take something this way, without giving anything back?

Investing in sustainability is both morally and socio-economically the right thing to do. It will also be commercially profitable.

Innovasjon Norge

While the discussion around this video was going on and tweets shared (unfortunately in Finnish only) Visit Finland expressed that their Twitter account is only for marketing purposes and they’d continue the discussion only through email. Second fail I’d say. If and when the harm is done and discussion goes on, organization should definitely not step back and stay silent. Especially if and when it’s an public organization, with public responsibilities and us citizens as stakeholders. So please Visit Finland, make sense not war.

In the end, after all this critique, I would like to highlight organizations, which do know how to do it right. Well done Australia and Norway.

Australia’s Indigenous experiences are a unique and important part of our tourism offering,” said John O’Sullivan, managing director of Tourism Australia, in the launch statement. “We’re confident this new short film, and our plans to make sure it is widely distributed both in Australia and overseas, will help promote this important facet of Australian tourism.

Tourism Australia chose two local directors to develop the video, including Warwick Thornton, whose mother was Aboriginal, and Brendan Fletcher, whose film “Mad Bastards” centers around an Aboriginal man living in Western Australia.

On Fletcher’s personal website, the “About” page reads: “Brendan’s films are usually about something… with social issues that affect us all. These films give voice to communities who often struggle to have their voice heard by mainstream media.”



Published by

Tiina Kivelä

Finnish escapades, as a friend once described.

4 thoughts on “Does Finland ever learn?”

  1. Thanks for the good commentary on the exploitation of indigenous minorities in country marketing. I hope Visit Finland learned it’s lesson from the flood of feedback.

    That issue aside, I am taken aback by the message of the film. While the main purpose of marketing is to create and promote service promises for future customers, they still should hold true to what is being experienced. Is the message of this film true to the experience of Lapland? Seeing this film and arriving in Lapland, do visitors from Asian countries feel that this promise is fulfilled?

    In my opinion this is an example of a bloated marketing message which, while probably generating viral hits, will eventually lead towards disappointments when visitors arrive in Lapland. In addition to marketing efforts, there should be more attention towards how to create great experiences that people can share and talk about in their social networks. One of the good examples of this happening is Kakslauttanen resort where experiences trump marketing and surprise visitors in a positive way. It is something that should be benchmarked by both Visit Finland and northern entrepreneurs alike.


    1. Thanks for the nice feedback. I can also relate to your thoughts about the overall message of the film. It does create a mythical, tempting atmosphere, drawing attention and awe, but I am not sure if this kind of viewpoint really creates profit in the end. (I could also go about how it’s not vise to encourage tourists to explore the northern wilderness all by themselves, because in reality it’s way more dangerous than the film suggests – but i’ll leave this to another occasion). Does this kind of a film really promote the real experience which the viewer is able to buy and consume or does it create an image too distant, too mythical from the reality of travel/tourism, too muthical to be able to buy, consume and experience? One could also say that rather than attracting tourists IRL, it attracts virtual tourists, to consume virtual experiences, right from their couches. Moreover, I really much liked the note made by Maija Loikkanen from House of Lapland, in Kauppalehti, where she said that from their point of view, one should be careful not to create the kind of mystique which distances us / them from the reality. “Meidän ei pidä ylikorostaa sellaista mystisyyttä, joka voi synnyttää vääränlaisen etäisyyden tunteen. Olemme täyden palvelun elämyksellinen erämaa – emmekä maantieteellisesti lainkaan niin kaukana kuin mielikuvat monilla markkinoilla vielä antavat ymmärtä” .


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