There were more than 3.1 million visits to Finnish national parks in 2017, which means ten percent growth over the previous year. The impact of spending by visitors on areas near the national parks grew by15% and by their own estimates, the monetary value of the health benefits of the visits was 310 million euros.
National parks are run by Metsähallitus, Parks & Wildlife Finland, which is pleased that the parks are so popular, but is also worried about the sufficiency of funds for maintaining the national parks and historic sites. Parks & Wildlife Finland operates primarily with the help of funding from the national budget. Keeping the sites in good condition is a prerequisite for promoting nature tourism and for securing the values of the destinations.
Strong growth for the national parks continued in 2017 throughout the country. The number of visits to the national parks grew by 10% from the previous year and even if Hossa, which was set up as a national park last year, were left out, the growth would still be six percent. Hossa was previously a national hiking area, and the new national park status led to an increase in visitors of nearly 100% over 2016. Other parks making the biggest gains were the Urho Kekkonen, Repovesi, Koli, Pallas–Yllästunturi, Syöte, and Bothnian Sea national parks.
One factor boosting the popularity of the national parks was the high profile given to nature as part of the celebrations of the centenary of Finnish independence. The proportion of international visitors is also growing.
Nature and historic destinations benefit local economy and public health
Parks & Wildlife Finland keeps track of the effects of spending by visitors on the local economies of national parks as well as national hiking areas and historic sites of significance. The economic impact for all of these locations rose by €25.9M, or 11 percent from the previous year to a total of €258M.
Visitors to nature reserves feel that their visits also bring considerable benefits for their health and well-being. According to visitor surveys, more than 87% of visitors to nature and historic sites felt that their visit had either a fairly great or very great impact on well-being. The visitors estimated the monetary value of the benefits that they experienced for their health and well-being at about €100 per visit.
Funding does not correspond to pressures from use
Customer satisfaction at nature and historic sites remains high: 4.34 on a scale of 1–5.
However, Parks & Wildlife Finland fears that the current level of funding is not sufficient to guarantee good visitor experiences in the future, or the development of nature tourism.
The basic funding is not adequate for securing the standard of services. In addition to needs for development, there is a considerable maintenance backlog that Parks & Wildlife Finland estimates at about 44 million euros, affecting the paths, buildings, and structures of the national parks and other sites. For historic sites it is more than 70 million euros.
Additional funding is also needed for securing the nature and cultural heritage values of the sites.
"If these values are lost, the sites will lose their appeal factors. If that happens, the possibilities for nature and culture tourism will also be lost", observes Timo Tanninen, Director of Parks & Wildlife Finland.
Almost all protected areas of Finland are situated on state-owned lands and waters. Within Metsähallitus, the Parks & Wildlife Finland is responsible for the management of these areas: their species, habitats and cultural heritage as well as recreational services.
Metsähallitus is a state-owned enterprise that runs business activities while also fulfilling many public administration duties.