Constant change and transformation are typical of tourism as a spatial phenomenon. This change has as much to do with the physical and representational base of tourist destinations as with the identity and cultural self-images of people living in the region. The socio-spatial portrayals of reality produced by the tourism industry can be problematic from the viewpoint of the local inhabitants and cultures, however, as the images often express the values and institutional practices of a non-local tourism industry. Consequently, it is necessary to consider how a destination and its representations emerge and how they are transformed and redefined in the context of culturally and socially sustainable tourism.
This chapter considers the transformation of the destination as both a social construct and a geographical process. The aim is to conceptualize the development of destinations and the institutional practices by which they are constructed, as well as their relation to the local culture and identity. The theoretical framework is based on the theory of the institutionalization of regions put forward by Paasi (1986), who suggests that regions are constituted through historically contingent processes as part of the transformation of larger socio-spatial structures. As a region, a tourist destination represents a specific historical and cultural phase in society and is best understood through this temporal and social context. Using the Saariselkä tourism region in Finnish Lapland—in the territory of the Sami, an indigenous people living in northern Scandinavia—as a case-study, the following study analyzes the transformation of Saariselkä from a reindeer husbandry area to a roadless wilderness and finally to a modern tourist destination. There are about 6,400 Sami in Finland, and they possess a cultural history and identity of their own, as revealed in the practiced forms of their livelihood.