Experiences on working as a tour guide in Lapland

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People working in customer service positions can rightly be described as the backbone of the whole tourism business in Lapland. Successful customer service experiences make the same customers return to the same destination from year to year and, of course, help bring in new customers as positive experiences spread through both traditional ways and social media. In this blog, I will tell you a little bit about my own experiences of acting as a tour and wildlife guide in Ranua, Finnish Lapland.
Vaara reindeer farm visit during winter

Table of contents

My own background as a guide

I wouldn’t call myself as a veteran in tourist guiding, because I have worked as guide only one winter season at Ranua Wildlife Park. However, the experiences and memories from the winter of 2016/17 are still bright in my own mind and because this work experience as a whole was so fun and positive in every way, I definitely want to share my own memories of that one winter season.

I jumped on board of the already moving train in the middle of the most active winter season, New Year’s Eve 2016. I also got to have a busy day in my first day, as I was immediately able to work as the second guide on the morning visit to Vaara Reindeer Farm, which was attended by more than 20 tourists, mainly from Britain and the Benelux countries. In the evening I also worked as the second guide in the Searching the Northern lights safari, which was done also with snowmobiles. On the other hand, the descent into my new job was also made smooth, because as a second guide you have little responsibility for the progress of the activity itself, but the only actual area of ​​responsibility at that time was to monitor the progress of the activity and to learn the contents of the safaris.

Snowmobile safari in Ranua
Different kind of snowmobile safaris are very popular activities in Ranua.

During my first week of working, I also got to think back many skills that I had already forgotten. The week included a lot of e.g. snowmobiling, which I had practiced the last time in my childhood, when my family had a snowmobile for which my dad had made own short route around our yard. However, the snowmobiling safaris themselves are so safely organized that it is easy to jump into the guidance job even without any real driving experience. So driving a snowmobile is not worth stressing either.

As the weeks progressed, my own work assignments became established mainly for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing instruction, both of which also sat very well in my own interests. What could be nicer than taking groups to snowshoe in the beautiful winter scenery of Ranua and admire the northern lights or to teach a traditional Finnish sport that has always a special spot in my very own heart?

How is it like to work as a tour guide?

You could describe the tour guide job as a fairly versatile one. The work day can begin with an early ice fishing guided tour and continue until midnight in the form of a northern lights safari. So working days can be long, especially during the most busy winter season. For me this wasn’t a problem at all, because when you enjoy the things that you are doing, time often passes even surprisingly fast.

One of the best things about working as a guide was that very often being at work didn’t even feel like working. I can honestly say that this was the case with me, because as a guide, I was able to teach people things that I would also be doing in my free time. At the same time, I got to know hundreds of people around the world as well as their stories and see the joy of learning new things. During the guided tours, I made friends with many people I still keep in touch with, for example, on the social media side.

Cross country skiing lessons in Ranua
Cross-country skis waiting for new students to arrive.

One of the biggest plus sides at work was also the fact that you could actually see up close how much the foreign tourists enjoy things that have become a matter of course for us people living in Lapland. Admiring the northern lights, hiking in the snowy forests, seeing the stars in the sky, riding a snowmobile and perch ice fishing were all experiences that many people are not able to experience in their home countries.

Of the individual memories, I could highlight, for example, one snowshoeing trip that I guided to an older German couple. As we were already returning toward the Gulo Gulo reception, the Northern sky lit up as the aurora borealis appeared in the sky. At this point, the senior gentleman dug his compact camera from his backpack and then managed to capture a few reasonable pictures of the northern lights from the arm, in addition to which I photographed a couple of photos of the couple with the northern lights shining in the background. When we set off again, the man told me, clearly moved, that after this experience, he could die as a happy man as he had now experienced something that he had always wanted to.

Another memory that came to my mind is when I held a two-hour skiing course for a larger Taiwanese group. There were over 20 people in the group and the age group was really strongly divided from side to side. At first, the guidance seemed very challenging, as simply putting the skis on a large group took a lot of time. However, I got the whole group well organized as well as listening to the instructions I was giving. During the orientation, I try to guide the participants as individually as possible. The queue on the trail around the camping area was stretched for a long time due to the age and skill and fitness levels of the skiers, but I still found a good time to talk to each skier individually. As an aid to me Interpreting working group’s own director Joshan, with which I have been dealing with matters related to tourism until the present day. The end result of the activity, by the way, was that all the participants (almost) from baby to grandparents managed to ski and actually did it very well.

The responsibility of the job

Finding the Christmas tree wwith Wildlife Safaris in Ranua
Tourists looking for the Christmas tree in the forest.

While being a guide is primarily fun that doesn’t feel like working, being a guide also comes with a very big responsibility, especially if you happen to lead a group alone. Especially in activities organized in the evening and at night, such as various northern lights safaris, you have to be careful at all times that no casualties happen. In the dark, after all, it is surprisingly easy to get lost, even though there are pre-treaded paths in the forest and it is also possible to lose control of the sled if you do not follow the given instructions or the speed limit.

I remember one practical example of these. I think it was on my second work week, when I was guiding a larger Belgian group in snowshoeing. In the beginning of the safari, I told the people at the back of the group that they need to take the responsibility of the string of people not stretching too long, so that we will stay together. However, the group of middle-aged men in the group did not want to follow this advice at all, and the gentlemen became enthusiastic about e.g. pushing each other upside down in the snowy forest, which made us have to stop to wait for the last bit of the queue.

This caused some problems in the final stages of the guide. I had only been to take snowshoeing tours once or twice and even during the day, which is why I still had to follow a pre-selected and pre-pedaled route at that point. Towards the end of the activity, I began to realize that due to the slow and pulsating pace of progress, we would not be able to get back to the starting point on time. For this reason, I had to interrupt the fire making part of the activity  and instruct the group to start moving faster towards the starting point. The queue started to stretch even though the journey back was basically a straight line towards the reception. When we got to the starting point, a bunch of men from the party came to talk to me with serious faces and told me that I had abandoned them, which is why they almost got lost in the woods. The gentlemen then stated that they would make a complaint about me to my employer. This was followed by a few seconds of silence, after which the group of men lost their control burst into a laughter and told me to relax, because it was just a joke. You can probably imagine that I didn’t feel quite as amused about the situation. It took me a bit of time before I was actually able to see the humorous side of the thing.

The experience as a whole

Snowshoeing safari in beautiful wintery landscape in Ranua, Finnish Lapland
Snowshoeing in Ranua happens in beautiful wintery landscape

In my own experience, I can recommend working as a tourist guide without reservation to anyone. If, for my part, I began to list the positive aspects of this job, then the list would be very long. Especially when guiding small groups during guided tours, there is really a lot of time to talk to the people being guided. Conversations with people from completely different cultures are always both nice and rewarding.

Being a guide was also an uplifting experience for me in many ways. For example, guiding large groups in a foreign language was something I hadn’t done before that made me throw myself out of my comfort zone. Thanks to this work experience, the tenderness and fear of performing that has been very strong throughout my life allowed me to give way to the background at least a little.

The most rewarding aspects of the work were, in addition to the genuine joy of foreign tourists already mentioned, the different feelings of success, in addition to the friendships that were established. It’s probably not possible to avoid a sense of well-being if you only manage to teach more than a dozen people to ski at zero in an hour or two or when you read afterwards on TripAdvisor, for example, how satisfied people have been with the service they received and how they plan to return to Ranua again.

The holiday village of Gulo Gulo also gets full marks from me as a job. Activities on safaris are very professionally handled and the employee is given a good introduction to quite challenging tasks, as well as a soft entrance. There is nothing you need to do until you feel ready to do it yourself. Despite the large number of customers, the problem situations during these winter months remained virtually zero and I do not think it is a great surprise that the holiday village, for example, has only practically full five-star ratings on the TripAdvisor side.

Text: Tuomas Haapala
Images: Ranua Wildlife Park (Wildlife Safaris)

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