Sustainable Tourism Across Borders


14 June 2022

Ulrika standing at a signpost in Visby.

In her research on sustainable tourism, Ulrika Persson-Fischier wants, among other things, to take advantage of and further develop the sustainable innovations that emerged during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic had enormous consequences for our society. Not least, it had negative consequences for the hospitality and tourism industries, given the restrictions on our ability to travel. Ulrika Persson-Fischier's research project "Sustainable tourism in the new normal" aims to focus on the new opportunities created by the pandemic.

A new reality confronted us all when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world. The tourism and hospitality industries were among the sectors hit hard when society was locked down and freedom of movement was restricted.

“Much focus has been on how the industry could deal with the negative effects of the pandemic - it's just been problem after problem after problem. We want to try to turn this around," says Ulrika Persson-Fischier, lecturer and researcher at the Department of Civil and Industrial Engineering at Uppsala University.

With the research project "Sustainable tourism in the new normal", she wants to focus rather on how the tourism industry and individual companies found solutions to the immediate problems that arose in the wake of the pandemic. There was no shortage of new solutions.

“They came up with numerous innovations and found new ways to survive. Especially the smaller companies,” says Ulrika Persson-Fischier.

Rather than expecting to return to the way things were before the pandemic, we can instead see the opportunity to create a new, improved and more sustainable tourism.

“With our project, we want to focus on all the great, constructive, sustainable innovations that came out of the pandemic. Also, how we can develop them to address other sustainability issues, such as climate change," says Persson-Fischier.

One trend that became very evident during the pandemic was "close-to-home tourism", that is, you don't have to traverse the planet to be on holiday.

“During the project, we interviewed companies and also held workshops to help them further develop sustainable solutions. We have also involved students in this work," says Ulrika Persson-Fischier.

In this way, the boundaries between education, research and collaboration have been blurred, something she believes is important to drive the field of sustainability research forward. This process has been a very important result of the project, which Ulrika Persson-Fischier describes as ‘working backwards’.

"We have worked with a vision-based approach instead of a problem-based one. In other words, we ask how we want the future to look, and then we work backwards to get there," she says.

Portrait picture of Ulrika.
Ulrika describes herself as someone who can
"catch sparrows in flight", grabbing opportunities
as they appear.
Photography: Daniel Olsson

Ulrika Persson-Fischier's career path has not be an obvious one. She has a PhD in anthropology and wrote her thesis on indigenous peoples in Russia and Siberia. After that, she worked in entrepreneurial training before focusing on sustainable tourism. She describes herself as someone who can "catch sparrows in flight", grabbing opportunities as they appear.

"Who knows where my career will lead me. However, some things remain important to me, and sustainability is an internal motivator," says Ulrika Persson-Fischier.

Her grounding in anthropology, however, remains a constant since her PhD - the assumption that we understand so much, but that we are probably wrong.

“To constantly question your assumptions is very important to me," she says.

One challenge in Ulrika Persson-Fischier’s research domain, she believes, is her own organisation.

“I am so happy and grateful to be working at the university, I have my dream job. The university as a whole encourages interdisciplinarity, but the structure with institutions provides an inherent contradiction in the organization, which presents challenges”, she says.

In December 2021, Ulrika Persson-Fischier was awarded the title of distinguished university teacher. Distinguished university teachers are those teachers who attain of a higher level of teaching expertise.

“The most important form of learning takes place with the new generation. That's why I see education as more important than research," she says.

For Ulrika Persson-Fischier, education is not about dumping a pile of research in the student's lap, but about exploring issues together where everyone learns equally.

“My role as a teacher is to help students become actors who want to and can take responsibility for the future. That's what motivates me," she says.

However, the pedagogical work is much more than encountering students in the classroom. For Ulrika Persson-Fischier, it has also been about using educational leadership to create the structures that have enabled the knowledge environment of the Sustainable Destination Development programme.

Ulrika Persson-Fischier believes that her strong commitment to education is due to her first-hand experience of the transformative power of education.

“I have had great teachers throughout my schooling who have meant a lot to me."

Agnes Loman

Facts about Ulrika Persson-Fischier

Position: Lecturer at the Department of Civil and Industrial Engineering. Anthropologist and head of the Master's Programme in Sustainable Destination Development.

In her spare time: Dances tango

Most proud of: My year in Siberia

Dream trip: Sailing across the Atlantic. And I've just done it - the Caribbean to the Azores in May 2022.

If I weren’t a scientist: I would have done theatre - it's another way of exploring what it means to be human