On October 5, 2016, a three-hour workshop was held in Muonio with the companies participating in the project “Animals and Responsible Tourism”. The workshop took place in the premises of Harriniva, which has over 40 years of experience arranging different tourism services, including husky and reindeer safaris. Seven of the eleven companies participating in the project were represented in the workshop. The representatives of these companies brought into the discussion their valuable experience and expertise on animal-based tourism services (huskies, reindeers, horses and wildlife animals). Before the workshop, participants took a tour around Harriniva’s main sledge dog farm. The tour was an excellent way of preparing ourselves for the workshop discussions.
“Without our animals there would be no business”
The statement above, which was brought up in the workshop, is an excellent reflection on the role of animal welfare in animal-based tourism services. Since animals are the core of the business of many tourism companies operating in Northern Finland, animal welfare is an issue of major relevance. For the companies involved in our project, it’s obvious that animal welfare is strongly linked to service quality, customer satisfaction and employees’ well-being. As the well-being of animals and employees are interrelated, it was pointed out that employees must share the values and philosophy of the company concerning the treatment of animals. This aspect is paramount when the animals are viewed as colleagues or family members, rather than simple objects.
In the workshop, we further reflected on the meaning of quality in relation to animal-based tourism services. Theses reflections can be summarized under three perspectives:
- Animal’s perspective: the personality and needs (feeding, care, safety, training, etc.) of individual animals is understood and taken into account in relation to their work, working environment and equipment.
- Customer’s perspective: Safety of the service and clean service environment.
- Employee’s perspective: Enough resources, transparency of the operations, ongoing monitoring and training possibilities.
In the workshop, it was stressed that “quality starts from animals and their needs”. When the animal is doing well, the customer, employees and entrepreneurs do well. This understanding of quality demands continuous learning and keeping track of the latest development on animal welfare.
As part of our workshop, we also discussed animal related tourism certifications and quality management systems, which are used at both the national and global level. The discussions revolved around the topics below:
- Customer awareness of the certifications. Are they only recognized in Finland or are they international?
- The impact of certificates on the training of employees and their role in recognizing employees’ knowledge and expertise about the animals they are working with.
- The relationship between existing certifications and the working conditions of animals in Northern Finland. Can the structure and criteria of existing certifications be used for the development of certification suitable for animal-based tourism services implemented in Northern Finland?
- The notion of service quality and its relation to animal welfare. Should quality be addressed generally or based on the needs and behaviour of particular animal species?
- Greenwashing – the creation of a misleading perception among customers that a company’s practices are promoting animal welfare. Indeed, some existing certifications were seen as form of greenwashing strategy. In particular those, which certify one particular animal-based service while neglecting how the company performs as a whole in terms of animal welfare.
With these insights, we will continue our research on tourism certifications focusing on animal welfare!
Best greetings from Lapland- the North of Finland!
Tarja, Mikko and José-Carlos
Photos: José-Carlos García-Rosell