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Blog: Russian tourists' perceptions of water quality in Finland

  • Text: Olga Hannonen & Jarno Suni

Last summer we have asked Russian tourists visiting Finland about their perceptions of water in Finland and their water-related activities during travels to Finland. Russians are the biggest group of foreign tourists visiting Finland (pre-Covid). Finland’s Lakeland is the top destination for Russian tourists along the capital region. Thus, Russian tourists have extensive experiences with water environments in Finland. Water quality pre-defines the use of waterbodies and type of water activities, which is important in planning of water use. The study is a part of the Recreational Use of Water Environments research stream under the UEF Water research programme at the University of Eastern Finland. Altogether 525 individuals have participated in the online survey.

First, we asked to describe what kind of waters Russian tourists prefer for water-related activities. The answered varied from clean and transparent to warm and quiet waters, from indication of specific waterbodies to specific activities, such as kayaking, boating, swimming, and fishing. Several respondents stated that they would be happy with any water.

Most of the respondents preferred the water to be clean. The cleanness of water has been mentioned in a variety of forms. For example, one of the respondents wrote: “I prefer clean water in natural waterbodies”, while another emphasised a specific activity: “Clean with a place for swimming”. About 11% indicated specific water temperature or that the water should be warm. The third most popular answer included a type of waterbody, among which lakes and rivers were the most preferred type. About 5% of the respondents defined the most preferrable kind of water through water activities, in which fishing and swimming are the most dominant ones. 

About 66% of the respondents have been fishing during their travels in Finland, another 51% have been swimming and boating. So, how Russian tourists perceive water quality in Finland? The graph below shows that the participants stated their perceptions by rating six different categories, 1) visible pollution, 2) slimes on the shores, 3) blooming blue-green algae, 4) brown(ish) colour, 5) presence of bad odour, 6) transparency. The most respondents (64%) disagreed in general (from somewhat disagree to strongly disagree) that Finnish lakes and rivers are polluted. The polluted option included both industrial pollution, sewage and, for example, the presence of trash. In a similar way, about 59% disagree that Finnish lakes and rivers have slime on the shores. Another 50% disagree that lakes and rivers have smell.

Opinions about the of blooming blue-green algae and the brown(ish) colour of waters were divided between the respondents. While about 34% agree about the presence of blooming blue-green algae, 49% disagree with that. In a similar way, about 46.5% disagree that the water has brown(ish) colour in Finnish lakes and rivers, but the 36% agree with that. These varying perspectives can be a result of visiting different areas in Finland and in different seasons.

Water transparency in Finland has been rated very positively. Over 89% of the participants agree that water in Finnish lakes and rivers is transparent. Only 3% of the respondents have expressed disagreement with that.

The results show that Russian tourists visiting Finland have good perceptions about the water quality in Finland. It can be summarised with the citation of a Russian tourist: “Water in Finland is already the way it should be, because Finns take care of the environment!” In addition, 37% of the participants said that the water quality in Finland had a positive impact on their overall travel experience. Again, most of the participants indicated that the cleanness of water is the main factor in providing pleasant experiences. Russian tourists wrote that it is “Pleasant to spend time on a clean shore with no smelly water” and “Very pleasant to fish on clean and noncontaminated waterbodies”.

The preliminary findings of the survey show that Finland provides desirable conditions for water-related activities and experiences for Russian tourists. As one of the respondents accurately concludes: “Finland is the country of lakes, all the lakes and nature are very suitable for vacation”.