Regenerative Tourism: Case Shepherd Holiday in Finnish Lapland

You can read this article also in Finnish: Uudistava pysähdys. Case Lapin Paimenlomat.

January 2021 online

On very dark Friday evenings in January 2021 I was sitting at home in southern part of Finland when there were a group of villagers from northern Finland on the other side of the computer screen. At first there was a feeling that it was me and them, but even though more than 800 kilometres separated us and it was difficult to really get to know people through the cold blue light-pushing screen, there was some kind of warm connection with this group from the beginning.

More than once I wondered what I had to give them – a genuine atmosphere of doing and thinking came through so strongly. I had no experience of sheep, cows and herding. Well, experience, yes… some kind, but distant and minor.

I was able to participate in designing and developing the shepherd holiday concept in arctic villages in Finnish Lapland. Shepherd holidays offered by Metsähallitus (a state-owned enterprise that produces environmental services in Finland) have been a great success story and the lottery never favors all applicants as there are hundreds of more applicants than places available. So there was a a need and a demand for a concept.

Service design and co-creation were appropriate methods of conceptualization the service. The framework and know-how existed and my role was to facilitate, highlight strengths and potential, encourage and sometimes question.

I remember how impressed I was with the descriptions of the places where the participants lived. We talked about six villages and I got excited that most of the villages were unknown, idyllic-sounding communities where they gather at the village houses to celebrate, dance and sometimes to eat together, the neighbor is greeted and invited for coffee and the villagers volunteer for the common good. Those attending the online workshops were truly interested in offering the beautiful encounters for visitors and they were supporting each other.

I also remember when, at the end of the project, the project leader had little doubts about whether guests would come, and I said with genuine enthusiasm that I would!

June 2021 still at home

At the end of January meetings, we had discussed about marketing materials, sales channels and visual appearance. My part had been completed and I trusted that the competent authors would finish the job with perfect results. I was hoping to see a map and nice stories as part of the material – and that’s what I got when, in June, started to map out the location and timing of the visit I had promised. Bookings and payments were made directly to the hosts. The Shepherd’s Holidays team in Lapland had made great materials visually and in terms of content!

I had promised to go, and I kept that promise, even though I hadn’t got any travel buddies to be confirmed just a few weeks before the departure. I have  been travelling a lot on my own, but now the responsibility for caring the animals weighed a little and I didn’t trust my own work alone.

At the end there was fortunately a group of women in three generations – my mother, my sister in law and my niece ready for adventure. A characteristic feature of domestic tourism, making reservations at the last minute, was also reflected in this travel planning of ours.

July 2021: Arrival to Viirinkylä village

I would have liked to visit all the villages and all the hostesses and hosts and at some point in the summer I had dreamed of shepherd holiday tour from village to village , but it was left to be carried out at some other time. As a sum of many factors, I booked us a holiday as shepherds of over 100 sheep from one of the hosts (Arto) and accommodation in a cottage along the Kemijoki river. We were welcomed by Arto’s nephew with his girlfriend and even then we experienced what hospitality and caring meant in these Lapland villages.

The first night I went swimming and learned from the very first experience that there is a flow in the Kemijoki river that you can’t see by looking at the beach. The next times I started swimming against the tide and then let the downstream bring back to the cottage shores. Later, the reason why the water level was lower during the weekend than in weekdays was also discovered; the lower use of electricity during the weekend contributed to the decrease in the water level at the cottage shore. The hydroelectric power plant was visible to the swimming spot and the human impact on nature became concrete. If villagers were asked now if they wanted a hydro power plant on the river, most would answer that they don’t.

In the evenings we had Sauna, made dinner by open fire and spent a wonderfully unhurried time as a team of four women, who rarely have time to stop to chat, laugh and cook together in everyday life.

July 2021 in Viirinkylä village: Orientation to shepherd´s work

Our host, Arto, came in the first morning to familiarize us with shepherd’s work. We were responsible for three pastures with a total of 118 sheep. Shepherd’s work included counting sheep and checking that everyone is doing well, adding bedding to shelters and serving bread – once a day.

I can’t even describe the hospitality mood and kindness when our host came to the cottage in the morning, sat with us for a long coffee break – and told his own story. There was no rush, not during the first encounter and never since.

We didn´t have early awakenings nor pressures from tight schedules and the amount of work to be done. It was great to listen to Arto talk about sheep and the atmosphere of his home village. Sheep are on the farm for wool production; Arto, together with his partner Hilkka takes care of the whole procedure till spinning the yarns.

At first, I wondered how Arto could identify the sheep and remember their names. But when we spent time in pastures and remembered to do the most pleasant task, sheep scratching, we also learned to recognize a few personalities among others.

”The black bush boy” was polite on the first day but was encouraged and then took a measure of us in a more boisterous but sympathetic style. Minnie, Iines and Tiinu, texel sheep, were easy to distinguish because of their size. Some sheep were named after famous Finns, cartoon characters and presidents. Every pasture also had those sheep that came to the gate when we left to ”say goodbye” and the most beautiful thing was when the fearful and timid lambs became our friends.

The 21st century. New Zealand, Amsterdam, Viirinkylä and Vanttausjärvi

I am interested in the regenerative movement and in regenerative tourism. A shepherd holiday is an excellent example of what happens when you stop and define what is meaningful in life, what kind of future we want to build and what kind of guests to invite to your village. The development of tourism should not be based on services imported into the community from outside, but on what develops within the community together with the members of the community.

At the heart of regenerative tourism is the idea that communities themselves define the way and content they want to develop their own place, how to produce well-being and help nature regenerate. Community residents should find answers to questions about what they love about in the place, what they are proud of and what matters most to them. Services are not developed for the sake of productisation, but to promote the common good and welfare. Instead of destinations, we talk about communities.

We also visited the village of Vanttausjärvi, where hosting couple, Merja and Jari, has renovated the beautiful Saariniemi farm, which belonged to Merja´s family. Shepherds are allowed to stay in grandma’s cottage moved to the shores of the lake and participate in the care of sheep and chickens. On the way to the farm, I remembered the dark evenings of January and wondered what the atmosphere had been like here at the time. The encounter with Merja and Jar was extremely warm and the atmosphere of hospitality was authentic.

One of the reasons for regenerative tourism action is people’s desire and need to seek and find health, well-being and care – and the desire to participate in doing good. Regenerative tourism includes the principles of sustainable and responsible tourism, a reminder of the importance of carrying capacity and the idea that tourism must bring more benefits than harm. The regenerative action will not forget economic profitability, but will take it to the next level by involving communities and actors in different sectors to work together, without frontiers.

For some years, I have sought influences and knowledge of regenerative tourism by primarily following international influencer Anna Pollock, lately also Daniel Wahl and some others. The most well-known destinations where regenerative activities have been applied in tourist destinations can be found in New Zealand and Amsterdam, Daniel Wahl uses the island of Mallorca in Spain as an example. As I used to live one year in the Dominican Republic, more than ten years in Spain (also in Mallorca), I have special interest to follow what happens globally.

I now declare the Shepherd Holiday concept in Lapland to be an example of regenerative tourism in Finland. You can do good and influence by taking part in shepherd holidays! Follow up: IG and FB @Lapin Paimenlomat. www -sites Lapin Paimenlomat

You can read more about regenerative tourism in my blog post: Regenerative  Tourism

Our host Arto invited us to work for the benefit of the village community; he pruned the willows in the village house´s yard, we collected branches and turned them into bouquets, which the sheep reportedly get at Christmas dinner as a memory from this summer.

THANK YOU Annika and Lotta for inviting me to join you in designing this concept!
THANK YOU all who jointed the online workshops in January 2021!
I am happy that the work done online became concrete for a genuine and memorable experience!

SPECIAL THANK to our host Arto!

THANK YOU so much for receiving us Merja and Jari!

THANK YOU Mamma, Minna and Thelma for a lovely travel companion!

If you wish, you can watch (and listen to sheep voice) a short video of our stay in Lapland here (subtitles in Finnish):

And finally, thank You for reading this article and following my blog.

Anu |

My journey continued further north to Pyhä-Luosto National park and on to Salla natural area, where I was hiking in beautiful summer weather, in silence and enjoying nature. I traveled home on a night shift train in my own sleeping cabin and my car was transported in the same train – this is excellent service in Finland!