As well as being extremely important for domestic tourism nature is an extremely important part of Finland’ s international tourism promotion. As of 2005 there were 35 parks in Finland and the total number of visits in Finnish national parks is approaching 1.5 million. The aver- age number of visits in Finnish National Parks has almost doubled since the 1990s and in remote areas such as Northern Finland the national park related tourism development has been even stronger. Such has been the recognized tourism significance of national parks that regional and local stakeholders and policy actors usually support the plans for opening parks, for the national park status as they believe it increases the attractiveness of the area and promotes nature-based tourism. Consequently, national parks have become a significant tool for regional economic development.
However, while tourism is obviously important for national parks in Finland it is not the sole rationale for their establishment with biodiversity and landscape conservation obviously also significant. As in other national park jurisdictions, the original Finnish legislation included provi- sion for both conservation and visitation, a balance that has become increasingly difficult given the growth in tourism numbers in recent decades. The 1923 Nature Conservation Act had an aim to preserve untouched nature although, as in the United States, it also stated that national parks were meant for pleasure and enjoyment for all citizens, that they should have value as an attraction and that be easily reached by people. Metsähallitus, the Finnish Forest and Park Service, reports that the role of the Finnish network of protected areas form a varied network intended to preserve for present and future generations a suitable number of representatives and ecologically viable areas of all the ecosystems and natural habitat types occurring in Finland, taking into account geographical variations and the various stages of natural succession.
As part of the aims of protected are conservation, the following should be preserved:
● Natural gene pools and ecosystem diversity.
● S pecies, geological and geomorphological features, especially species and features which are either naturally rare or threatened or declining as a consequence of human activity.
● L andscapes and habitats shaped by previous generations, including the cultural heritage associated with the Finnish countryside, along with endangered domesticated plant and animal breeds.
● The natural succession of ecosystems and other natural processes at various stages.
● Areas of outstanding natural beauty.
● Wild areas.
The growth of ecotourism and an increase in the number of visitors to protected areas is regarded as indicating a more favorable attitude toward nature conservation. Yet tourism is regarded as only one out of ten different uses of the Finnish protected area system that require a policy statement (the others being everyman’ s right to access, fishing and hunt- ing, photography, local residents, traffic, forestry, mineral prospecting and mining and leas- ing land). These different use demands are usually managed via a master plan for a given protected area. The Finnish experience mirrors the approaches of the Nordic countries and other national park agencies in the developed world with respect to the relationship between tourism and national park and protected area planning. The difficult task of balanc- ing conservation aims while still encouraging visitation is one that is almost universal at des- tinations that are either national parks or have a significant area set aside as protected area.