The National:

IN a recent column for the Helsinki Times I explored the political relationship between Scotland and Finland, and areas the two countries could benefit from collaboration on. Formalising an agreement of shared understanding within the tourism sector could help to further align Scotland with its Nordic allies.

Last month at their annual conference the SNP backed plans to consider Finnish style prisons in Scotland. The motion was an attempt to address Scotland’s relatively high incarceration rates for a western country. The SNP’s interest in Finnish prisons follows several joint policy development efforts in the past, including a visit from a Finnish delegation to learn from the Scottish approach to mental health. One area that the two countries could benefit from further collaboration on is tourism.

A blueprint for this could be the agreement between Iceland’s tourist board and VisitScotland that was announced by Nicola Sturgeon in 2016. The agreement ensured that both countries' national tourism bodies shared information and learned from each other in the future.

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Formalising an agreement with Finland's tourism body could bring many benefits to Scotland, particularly in learning from its approach to sustainable tourism. Sustainability has been one of Scotland’s most pressing concerns this year, with COP26 in Glasgow highlighting an immediate need for the world to act on climate change. The First Minister placed particular emphasis on sustainability when talking about the previous agreement with Iceland. She stated that “we share a common interest in developing a sustainable tourism sector”. Collaboration with Finland could aid in maximising the economic impact from tourism whilst also considering sustainability.

The Finnish sustainable tourism label is something that could specifically be implemented in Scotland. To gain the label, companies must complete a programme in collaboration with VisitFinland. According to VisitFinland, the programme aids Finnish tourism companies to “adopt sustainable practices”. Regular auditing against the criteria developed in the programme ensures that businesses maintain their high standards long term. Larger destinations as a whole can also gain recognition if 51% of tourism companies within that specific area obtain the label. This process would ensure that Scottish businesses would be helped to contribute to sustainable tourism and gain recognition for it.

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Finland's national tourism organisation also stresses the importance of “slow travel”. This involves environmentally friendly ways of travelling such as mass transit, discouraging the use of cars for limited passengers and cutting emissions.

Finland shares with Scotland the ability to connect a large number of rural communities with its rail network. The news that ScotRail is to come under public ownership from next year highlights the importance of how Scotland’s infrastructure and tourism industries can intersect. VisitFinland’s campaign to encourage slow travel is, therefore, something the Scottish government should consider.

As Scotland looks set to consider its independence soon, it becomes necessary to evaluate how it sells itself on the world stage as a tourist destination. An agreement of understanding with Finland's tourism body could strengthen our political ties and would also highly benefit Scotland’s tourist industry in the future.