My Oulu: Search of Finnish Happiness – new way of introducing tourists with locals

Fam tour group heading to explore genuine Finnish grandma's treats. Photos: Anne Laurila

Julkaistu: Kirjoittaja: Sanna Riikka Johanna Häyrynen

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Saaga Travel is hosting a familiarisation tour around Oulu for a group of international travel agencies who will get to experience various aspects of Finnish happiness – such as spending a day at the summer cottage or visiting a grandma’s place for coffee and homemade cinnamon rolls. During the fam tours incoming tour operator promotes new products for foreign travel agents – if they like the product and enjoy their fam trip, they will book their clients for it in the future.  

To get to this point, it took some heavy thinking and months of development work from Johanna Salmela, head of international sales at Saaga Travel.

 “When I saw Visit Finland’s marketing video Happiness is a place called Finland, I started to think about what Finnish happiness actually is and could it be transformed into tangible activities? It is such a broad and abstract concept, but it was hard to find ready-made activities or travel packages that would serve the needs of tourists,” Salmela explains.

“I started to build the whole travel package under the happiness theme on my own and here we are, presenting the new tour for our foreign partners! My idea was to build an in-depth happiness experience and offer a bit more to our clients than just an ordinary sauna or hike in the forest,” Salmela continues, clearly excited.

Live like a local

The first fam tour consists of ten travel agencies from Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, Estonia, Netherlands, Germany, China, and Ukraine. Over the 6-day program, they get to know various aspects of Finnish happiness in Oulu, Hailuoto, and Iso-Syöte.

The daily program has dedicated themes such as family and society, culture, art and traditions, or Finns and their nature relationship. Instead of just visiting places, the highlight of the program is various encounters with local Finnish people.

 “The Finnish welfare society provides a foundation for happiness which cannot be taken back home like a souvenir. But maybe travellers will go back home with an understanding of how to build elements in their own life to achieve a better quality of life,” Salmela speculates.

 “Meeting new people makes us happy, so our program provides opportunities to meet local people and visit their homes too,” Salmela says.

 A summer cottage is the place for us Finns to relax and set ourselves to stressless mode.  Fishing, wood chopping, berry picking, and heating up the sauna at the cottage are part of our national identity, collective memory, and possibly the core of Finnish happiness – and an obvious part of the fam tour program. 

Timeline for developing new products take time and thinking. Mari Rannisto, Elina Liimatta, Johanna Salmela and Niina Harjunpää started planning the fam trip program already in June. 

Happiness throughout life

Fam tour participants get to know the societal foundations of Finnish happiness by meeting local working age women who have succeeded in reconciling family and working life. Mari Rannisto, Elina Liimatta and Niina Harjunpää share their life stories since birth through childhood, youth, and professional career.

“Quality education free of charge from preschool to Master’s degree, student allowance, gender equality, long maternity leave and parental leave, baby box to support new parents when starting a family, health care, and on a personal level: various opportunities to travel and study and work abroad,” lists Harjunpää some examples of how the Finnish society supports the happiness of its citizens.

All the examples listed are narrated through the women’s own life experiences and illustrated with their own family photos.

A few hours’ meeting with working women as a part of Finnish happiness tour was planned at the beginning of summer. The venue today is restaurant Nallikari, but this discussion could take place anywhere.

“This is a great way for us to test if this type of program would work in the tour package. We get the feedback from the activity immediately from our fam tour participants. They know their customers and can imagine if this type of activity would be appreciated or not. All the activities must be adjustable for clients, and the fam tour gives us precious information on how to develop the product into sellable shape,” Salmela explains.

What makes us happy

One likes luxury while the other prefers homestay accommodation. Oulu is being evaluated from many perspectives by the fam tour participants. Their customer segments vary a lot – some appreciate fine dining and exclusivity; other clients need affordable activities for big groups.

The whole tourism industry is seeking new business opportunities after the Covid-19 pandemic. What will be the next megatrend in the travel business? After an era with lockdowns and home offices, maybe the taste of Finnish happiness is exactly what the world needs? Reconnecting with mother nature, outdoor and cottage life, and enjoying fresh food straight from the lake or forest with fresh air and private encounters with Finnish people does not sound too bad.

For a German travel agency, the motivation to participate in this fam tour is clear.

“Almost 99 procent of what we sell is Finland during the winter. We need to find good products for other seasons, too. Who knows how long the winter season will be in the future due to climate change? This program could be worth testing,” says sales manager Michaela Hallmen from Arktis Tours.

If the fam tour program turns out as expected, the first paid customers might be seeking happiness in Oulu next summer.

Elina Liimatta, Niina Harjunpää and Mari Rannisto presenting their views of the societal foundations linked to Finnish happiness.


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