Welcome to Finland! Olen lomalla *

This topic and this post has been on my mind for many years already. Long before I’d even heard about blogging it was something that bugged me. A lot. I’ve run out of patience now, so here is my two cents worth!

Picture this: a newly opened accommodation facility has a sushi-bar located in the same building. It is July, and the beginning of high season in Helsinki. The sushi-bar is closed, because the rest of the street comprises of office buildings and thus many of your regular customers are away. Alternatively, walk into a market hall close to the city centre, heavily promoted on Helsinki tourist literature and see half the boutique shops are closed for holiday. Worst of all, buy an ice-cream from a beach-side kiosk where the attendant is more interested in playing with their phone or talking with their work partner and has the social and selling skills of a **

Hanko Sushi Herttoniemi closed July 2013
Hanko Sushi Herttoniemi closed July 2013

I get the logic behind closing the restaurant because business will be slow. If your service business is operating in an area dominated by firms based on  business-to-business, there is a very good chance that in July, in Finland, the majority of your customers and their employees will be on holiday. Finns enjoy up to 5 weeks of vacation per year. (It’s actually 30 days, and because Saturday is counted in the holiday calculation it ends up being five weeks, generally taken as four weeks in summer and one week in winter.) ***

I also understand for the sole trader operating in the market hall, July really is the best time to take vacation. The weather is generally pretty good. There is a very good chance that your friends are also holidaying at the same time. If you have school age children, they enjoy ten weeks of holiday, and obviously camps and relying on the charity of grandparents can only be stretched so far. Perhaps you feel that your little shop in the market hall is not what visitors to Helsinki would be looking for or that your other languages are not strong enough to deal properly with visitors.  Although if you pack up shop and leave town for a month, how do you know?

Unfortunately, I also sort of understand the grumpy teenagers in the kiosk. Competition for summer jobs is fierce, and not everybody gets a summer job or  more importantly gets a job in a field they are interested in. For me that is the greatest crime about youth summer jobs. The best job is doing something you want to do – I don’t think there is a single person who will argue against that point. Quite possibly it should be reasonably paid as well! So we have an army of youth workers, with little or no possibility of getting the job they want. We are all aware of the Catch-22 surrounding employment and experience. No wonder half of them look and act as though they would like to be a million miles away or doing anything but serving ice-cream. The other reason of course is that many friends remain jobless for the holidays, hitting the beach, shopping centres and skate parks in great numbers. Where would you rather be?

Our own situation is a little complicated. When I was the same age as Mr. 14 I worked for the family business. Every summer holiday was spent working. We did our holidays at other times of the year and it was no big deal. My bulk of my working life has been service industry orientated. I’m used to holidaying when things slow down a little. The Engineer works in a firm that caters business-to-business, and although it may be slow here in Finland his customers are all over the world and not always on holiday. When we travel ‘on holiday’ I know there will be a phone conference or two, the emails will keep coming and it’s not been unknown for him to leave us for a couple of days to meet a customer and then catch up with us. Mr. 14 is halfway through his 10 week break and already thinking about where and what he would like to do for a summer job. I’m pretty certain this year will be our last family summer holiday for a long time. Me? I’m working and trying to get as many guiding gigs as possible. The proper break will come later when the days get shorter and the weather turns a bit unpleasant.

It wouldn’t be right for me to complain about the holiday season without offering some solution or at least my thoughts on the matter. I’m not 100% convinced that the situation will ever improve. At an event I attended earlier in the week I actually voiced some of the above out loud, along with some solutions. The audience was less than appreciative of my observations and I’m not sure if it’s because they thought I was attacking Finland ****  or they just didn’t get where I was coming from. One friend quite rightly pointed out that for the majority of Finns, taking summer holiday in July is seen as an entitlement. I think if a Finn has spent any length of time living and working abroad, chances are their perception of holidays and entitlements becomes a lot more flexible.

Kipparlahden pharmacy July 2013 - reduced hours for summer
Kipparlahden pharmacy July 2013 – reduced hours for summer

Solution number one, which I’ve seen in operation for many of the local businesses in my neighbourhood relies on skeleton staff and reduced hours. If you know that it’s going to be quiet, stagger the holidays and reduce your operating hours. Simple really. The restaurant could have a simplified or reduced menu. That constitutes savings not just on training or manpower requirements, also on stock required to be purchased. Reduce the opening hours to dinner only as the lunch trade from the nearby offices is negligible. The ultimate saving would be to reduce to being take-away only, and do away with wait staff altogether!

The market hall boutique is a really difficult one to fix. Many of these shops are either artisan or specialist by nature. You can not simply hire the first person that comes along. Maybe the planning needs to start earlier and take on a trainee who is ready to cover in times of holiday (and sickness!). The alternative is to take the holiday at a different time. True the weather might not be so great, and there is a very good chance that you’ll be holidaying on your own. Instead, think of the peace and quiet, and all that space!

RamData Summer Hours 2013 - they close 2 hours earlier!
RamData Summer Hours 2013 – they close 2 hours earlier!

As for the summer workers who want to be elsewhere. Go be some place different or at least put on your game face, pretend to enjoy the work and maybe, just maybe you will end up having a good time. At least spare the traveling public your grumpy face and bad mood.

Now one should not bite the hand that feeds, so I hope you can see where I am coming from. As a budding entrepreneur in the Finnish travel industry I cannot afford to alienate fellow businesses, potential employers or future employees. I just get so frustrated with the shortsightedness around me.

* Olen lomalla is Finnish for I’m on holiday / vacation.
** please insert your own idea of bad social and selling skills here!
*** this is dependent on your working time per month, and then length of service as well. Remind me to write a post about holidays!
**** I am a (naturalised) citizen, so I feel I’m allowed to offer constructive criticism.

NOTE: I’ve used the term holiday pretty much all through this post. Please note that in this context holiday and vacation are interchangeable and mean exactly the same thing.

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18 comments

  1. This is the time of the year when cruise ships are constantly entering Helsinki’s harbours and loads of tourists are flooding in, but businesses are closed because the owners insist on taking their holidays. These same business owners then complain that they’re making no money “because of the recession”. There’s no business sense employed here, and they have absolutely no sympathy from me.

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    • Lechaise, very valid points and I would question this recession they speak of. Year on year I think visitor numbers are increasing all the time, yet still we have to work around this ‘July is holiday month’ mentality. As Frank mentioned, changing a culture is difficult. All we can do is work from the inside!
      Thanks for commenting, hope to see your comments again 🙂

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    • It certainly is Frank, we have to first acknowledge that something needs to be changed. Then perhaps, change will come about. Perhaps.

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  2. A well thought piece on the problem.
    How much does Finland depend on tourism during its summer? As someone who worked in restaurants for over a decade in the US, I’m well familiar with working when the rest of the world is off (nights, weekends, holidays.)
    I’m actually kind of shocked that businesses that cater to disposable income aren’t available year round, especially when their clientele has free time.

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    • Tourism as an industry is relatively young in Finland. We are definitely still finding our feet so to speak. Winter tourism is probably a little more developed than summer tourism. In part, Finns generally don’t understand that what they take for granted as part of the every day scenery, is in fact quite exotic and interesting to the visitor.
      It makes good economic sense to be available when your customers are around!
      I’ve obviously struck a nerve, I posted to a couple of FB groups here and the conversation started immediately – plenty of similar examples !
      Change will come, it has to. Maybe this post starts some sort of dialogue 🙂 let’s see. I’m hopeful for the future anyway!

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  3. I don’t understand exactly why this is a problem for you? Does it affect your life drastically or is your opinion mainly business based?

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    • Thanks for your comment Milla! My life isn’t drastically affected in that I’m able to hunt down information and work out what is and isn’t open. However the casual visitor to Helsinki or Finland may not necessarily be able to find out in good enough time. An example: I worked over the weekend of June 22nd and 23rd (midsummer!) and the majority of my guests wanted to visited Kauppatori (marketplace by the harbour). Most were not aware of midsummer and expressed disappointment that they didn’t know of this holiday weekend. So then the question becomes one of education – of the visitor or the Finnish tourist industry. That part is my business! To paraphrase El Guapo, if you are in the business of taking peoples disposable income, shouldn’t you give them the opportunity to spend it with you rather than your competitor!

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      • But in the example you gave I find it odd first of all that they didn’t do enough research to know about midsummer. It’s all over the main touristic websites. And secondly, I’ve lived in southern Spain before in a very touristy place and I have to say I find it sad. I was a journalist there and did a piece on eco-tourism and how tourism in general effects a place/location. One of the main points was that the change needs to come in terms of the locals, not solely by the pressure of the industry. So as a local myself I would like to see tourists respect us locals and our customs. I do agree with you on the thing though that people should be more informed by the shop keepers and tour operators.

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        • I can only comment on what my guests told me. I can’t comment on the quality of their research or that they picked up along the way. I’ll make one observation that often while there is very detailed information available in Finnish and Swedish, the information in secondary languages is abbreviated to such an extent that you can not determine the whole picture. Google translate doesn’t always translate in a manner that you can understand either 🙂

          I agree 100% with you that any changes must come from the society within, and not purely as a result of industry pressure. However, shouldn’t there be a dialogue first? Who initiates the discussion? While it is traditional to holiday in July, and there are many good reasons to take summer vacation in July, how do we cater to the visitor who hears how wonderful it is here and wants to have a Finnish summer holiday? The organisations that cater to and find the answers to these questions will be the big benefactors. I’m hesitant to use the word ‘winners’, it brings to mind that this is just about competition, and it is far more than that.

          It’s a very short peak tourist season here when compared to many other places. September is here soon and life becomes much less hectic. Anyway, I’ll enjoy summer no matter where I am.

          (I also think that Finland should have a dedicated tourism ministry – that’s a topic for another day I’m sure!)

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  4. Good post. I understand your frustration, it seems Finland is no different to other countries when it comes to the ability to apply common sense to problems. Having said that I’m not even sure from what you have said that they recognize there is a problem. But well done for getting the debate going. .

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    • Fasab, thanks for your support! This blog generated some very interesting comments in one of Facebook groups I shared it with. Pretty much the view was that Finland still has a long way to go. If enough of us comment and get people thinking then change will come. It’s just a matter of time. I think part of the fear on the Finnish side is that they will lose something dear or central to the Finnish psyche. July as a holiday month is the sacred cow, we just need some brave souls to sacrifice the cow 🙂

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  5. You could have been describing coastal Maine in the summer. I am so tired of waiting patiently while cashiers finish a conversation, or grumble and mumble about how horrible their jobs are, and then go home and spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on video games and music. Poor babies. I remember working in the summer — I was grateful for a job, and my paychecks covered all of my expenses for the time period. Oh well!

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  6. […] Thus, her knowledge of this country shared in the blog is worth reading. My favorite posts are Welcome to Finland! Olen lomalla and Helsinki, there are plenty of good people […]

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