Finlands northernmost municipality Utsjoki makes big push for year-round tourism

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Finland’s only municipality with a majority of Sámi population, Utsjoki, is renowned for its salmon fishing tourism in the summer. However, due to the salmon fishing ban in place since 2021, imposed because of weak fish stocks, and the municipality’s weak long-term economic prognosis, a need to transform the regional economy has been recognised.

In order to strengthen livelihoods and increase tax revenue, the municipality bordering to Norway, has ambitious plans to develop year-round tourism. Since June 2023 consultants have worked on a project which aims to establish a long term plan for the development of the tourist sector by 2035.

On Monday, June 10, the municipal council approved the goals of the so-called Master Plan. 

1 million€ tax revenue by 2035

The goals include having a tax revenue of one million euros from tourism by 2035. 

In order to achieve this, commercial accommodation with at least 200 beds are to be established. In total 1000-2000 beds are to be added. This scale ensures that enough jobs are created and businesses are more profitable, thus paying corporate taxes. New routes and activities are also to be developed in the area. The focus will be on selling guided activities and packages to customers. Other goals are to attract high paying tourists as well as to get guests to stay for longer.

International branding

Another part of the development of tourism is to invest in marketing. Internationalization is part of the package, and the municipality will be branded as “Arctic Highlands”.

The Arctic Ocean is also to be used in marketing to encourage tourists to stay overnight in Utsjoki and take day trips to Norway. Other ideas are to organise round trips in collaboration with the Norwegian tourist sector.

Furthermore, the plans include developing flight traffic and airport transfers to both the northernmost Finnish airport in Ivalo and the airport in Kirkenes, the Norwegian town bordering to Russia. Recently, Finnair informed that they will start flying from Helsinki to Kirkenes via Ivalo, starting in April 2025.

The municipality needs more land for business activities and housing in the bigger villages Karigasniemi, Utsjoki’s Kirkonkylä and Nuorgam.

More land needed

The ambitious goals of developing the tourism sector also means that the municipality is in need of more land to build on. The land use for tourism is to be agreed upon jointly by Metsähallitus which is the Finnish land protection authority, the municipality, tourism entrepreneurs, and reindeer herding cooperatives. 

According to Utsjoki’s land policy plan until 2035, which also was approved by the council on June 10, the municipality’s most important goal is to get more land in order to develop tourism and the area in general.

Metsähallitus, owns 95 percent of the municipality’s area, of which 80 percent are protected nature areas, so called Natura 2000 areas. The municipality is discussing with Metsähallitus regarding the use and potential purchase of land. 

The land policy plan states that the municipality might exercise its pre-emptive right to purchase land from private owners if necessary. In for example the village Nuorgam there is a clear need for more land for residential construction and business activities. Currently there are ongoing zoning processes in the villages Karigasniemi and Utsjoki, for the aim of utilising more land for business activities, housing, and recreational activities.

The consultants continue working on the details of the Master plan project during the summer months and the final plan will be evaluated by the council in autumn 2024.