Finland’s Lapland tourism industry… Is there a dark secret beneath the Northern Lights ?

Ah Finland, a country that is made up of mostly dense forests and countless lakes and rivers, a country of natural beauty in all directions, with a population of just over 5 million and a language that is distinctly their own. Finland is sometimes the overlooked Nordic country, that many Americans probably can not tell you much, if anything about. Well I am not only a loud mouthed American but I call Finland home now and I am here to open up a can of worms about this small and quiet country that sits between the enormous red giant Russia and the folks who brought the world Volvo and Ikea, Sweden. I have slowly and sometimes painfully learned that Finns are culturally quiet and non confrontational folk, they for the most part simply avoid lengthy conversation and from an American perspective, they do not open their mouths, even if something probably should be said (depending on who you are asking of course). Perhaps, unfortunately for some Finns (most likely students) and migrant workers, who come to Finland in hopes of finding a decent paying job or any job at all, there is a rumour that money can be made in Finland’s Lapland tourism industry, which by figures and facts has been growing substantially for several years now, with predictions for the coming years to see still massive increases in all areas of Lapland tourism. From hotels, tour providers and even commercial airlines, many businesses and small one man operations are cashing in on this tidal wave of new cash.

Obviously where there is high demand for guest services, there has to be a substantial workforce that is capable and qualified to handle the volume, right ? In Lapland currently, there are several well-known and well established tour companies that offer the usual Lapland winter attractions and guided tours, activities such as Northern Lights Hunting Safaris, the ever popular Husky dog sled safaris, snow mobile safaris, ice fishing and several other sure bet  Lapland themed tours. With well more than 60,000 international visitors in 2016, these tour companies must be darn busy right ? with tours operating both day and night, 7 days per week, for at least 4 months straight. In a perfect working man’s world, there SHOULD be a nice slice of that cash pie for everyone involved in providing the droves of tourists with quality tour guide services and safe (and legal) business practices, for both tourists and tour guides alike, right ? I mean if you have ever checked out the prices of a Lapland holiday, including daily activities, you can see for yourself it ain’t cheap. Clearly with pricey tours in abundance from several different operators in all of Lapland, the tour companies must be able to hire plenty of qualified staff and pay them a decent living wage, not to mention, be able to give them time off and give them time to have a meal or two each working day, right ? BUT is this how the glamorous glow of Lapland tourism really shines from behind the scenes ?

Like any type of big business, there are fair and trust worthy companies to work for and there will always be bottom feeders who are looking to fill their pockets and do it with the least amount of expense output and that means labor costs as well. Even in a fair and equality minded country as Finland is, there are  likely those businesses that perhaps get away with very questionable employment practices and maybe even bordering illegal, depending on some laws regarding workers rights. I want to be perfectly clear that I myself have not been subjected to such a work environment in Finland, though I do believe I steered myself clear of one such questionable job offer, I believe I avoided an employment disaster with a tour company in Lapland, because I listened to my gut and I probed a bit into the background of one particular company. All I can admit is that I sure am glad I used the internet to follow what my instincts were screaming to me. At the very last moment, when I had read enough from former employees and even what tourists themselves mentioned about the said company, I called off my trip to Lapland the very same day. I can just say that of course one can not make a concrete accusation without undeniable facts from witnesses or from personal experience but one can begin to assume that so many similar stories about a certain employer may not be just coincidence or a plot to bring down one business owner, why would several people from different backgrounds who have claimed to have worked for this or that tour company, pretty much all be warning of the questionable practices of those employers ? Maybe we will never know or, maybe one day some light can be shown on the underside of this fast growing tourism industry in Lapland, Finland. Finland after all is known for its transparency in both the political and economical arenas, if no businesses in Lapland are in fact running dark and secret filled operations, then we can continue to assume all is legitimate, safe and fair in Lapland tourism. Let us working class folk and tourists in Finland and from all around the globe, have a clear view into the background of the companies we either work for or trust as paying customers. If there are no dirty and dangerous secrets in labor practices, then there should be no problem with proper investigation by authorities and labor unions right ?

For me personally, I love living in Finland and I take pride (that is very American of me) in working and paying my share of taxes to this country I am allowed to live in. I want to see the tourism industry grow so that Finland’s economy can grow and as an avid traveler myself, I want to know that tourists can come to this wonderful forest country and enjoy safe and reliable activities, provided by safe, honest and reliable companies. I also want to point out that bad business practices are not just something I know nothing about, I am still a proud member of a trade union in my home country, I will not turn my eyes the other way if I see a situation that I know is unfair and or dangerous. So let us all look at Lapland tourism with honest and non judging eyes and let the tour companies open their doors wide to journalists, film makers,  labor unions, and the free press media, what do we say folks ?

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2 thoughts on “Finland’s Lapland tourism industry… Is there a dark secret beneath the Northern Lights ?

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  1. Interesting post! I’ve worked in tourism in Helsinki more or less since 2001, but I don’t know much about tourism in Lapland. Except that I’ve always wondered why they don’t develop it more aggressively and why it’s taken so long for the industry to realise the potential. Is to too expensive to start up new businesses or hire more people with the Finnish taxation, or is there just a lack of entrepreneurial spirit? Anyway, I totally believe you in that there may be people taking advantage of the situation – isolated and far away from the authorities’ eyes??

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  2. Actually the tourism business in Lapland is growing very fast and I think this is also where shady people try to cash in on it. I am fortunate to have found an honest and solid business to work for during the winter season, I have met some guides in Finland who have not always had a good work experience and that is a shame. There is enough tourist traffic in Lapland that everyone operating and working in Lapland tourism should be able to make decent wages.

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