Through work, a tourism researcher has a chance to travel to conferences, and to teach and study tourism business in various corners of the world: big European cities, ski resorts in the Alps, backwoods in Minnesota, vineyards in Australia, mountain lakes in New Zealand or cities in China. Travelling really widens your horizons, as after each trip, I have more respect for the peace and quiet of my home region.
At international tourism research conferences, in addition to the results of scientific research, people usually find out about the phenomenon in question, that is, tourist destinations and their attractions. In Macau, conference visitors were taken to see the casinos, in St. Moritz we tried downhill mountain biking, in Jordan we admired the ruins of Petra and screamed on a jeep safari with desert sand flying all around us. In South Africa we travelled on the back of a lorry amongst elephants and lions, and in Turkey, we admired the ruins of Ephesus. In the outermost corner of Minnesota, North West Angle, I sat down for days, ice fishing in the freezing temperature of minus 30°C, albeit I was mostly crouched down in a fishing hut, conducting research on the deepest essence of fishing tourism.
When I was working as an exchange teacher in Asia, cultural differences between the east and west felt sometimes slightly awkward. In South Korea, my hospitable hosts gave me a young female student as an interpreter and assistant. She followed me everywhere from morning till night, gave me advice and helped me, but when she tried to come in the toilet with me, it felt as though she was caring a bit too much. In Central China, in turn, three tourism students were designated as guides for my day off. Their task was to guide me in the East Lake Park, which has a lake, undulating forests and various sights of cultural history.
For a traveller, simple is beautiful, and what is ordinary for us, is special for a tourist.
During the day I realised that none of my guides had ever been to the park, apart from the very proximity of the entrance, where, on the Saturday of our visit, an endless stream of work and youth groups flowed in with their guides repeating loud catch phrases. My guides had no idea about the attractions in the park, let alone the points of compass or local services. We ended up walking approximately 15 km – under my guidance. During the journey, we bumped into sparkling clean public toilets, but none of the restaurants or food kiosks were open outside the high season, although, as far as I am concerned, there were lots of people about. The young ladies were entirely exhausted after such a physical effort, and their teachers were horrified to hear about our long walking route.
Cold and hunger
A decent bed, a clean toilet and tasty food are the most important services for travellers. I have spent many sleepless nights with an aching pelvis, on a bed I thought was rock hard. In Central Europe and Asia you do not tend to have top mattresses in average accommodation, where a researcher tends to sleep. During my trip to Japan in January, I was freezing cold, as the only heating in the room, an air source heat pump, was only turned on when a visitor occupied the room. At a dinner in Chongqing, China, the only dish was a hot pot with a smell strong enough to bring tears into my eyes, and the flavour was still burning my mouth the following day. At least I didn’t overeat. In Georgia, I had a delicious meal and drinks followed by such an upset stomach, I did not feel like eating for weeks afterwards. I later heard that various other people visiting the same conference in Tbilisi had struggled with the same problem.
At home in Koitere
What kinds of experiences do I treat my international guests to in Eastern Finland? Based on my own experience, I believe that a tourist enjoys ordinary Finnish things over anything else. As my foreign colleagues already know that I am pure-bred country girl at heart, they do not even expect experiences of high culture. I have taken a professor colleague, a keen hunter and fisher, from the USA on a winter net fishing trip. We also set out fish traps in the summer, went moose hunting and camping on Patvinsuo Mire. I spent a weekend with my South African colleague at my cottage in Koitere in March, having a sauna, swimming in the snow, skiing, ice fishing and driving a snow mobile. I took my Spanish and Australian colleagues mushroom picking in a forest, and we also baked cinnamon rolls. I took my Hungarian colleague, who is into cultural things, kick sledging on Lake Koitere ice. In 2009, my international conference guests had a church boat rowing competition and a sauna by lake Saimaa, and in 2015, I took the conference guests to admire Lake Pielinen from the top of Koli Hill.
Simple is beautiful for a traveller, and what is ordinary for us, is special for the tourist. You start to appreciate the ‘ordinary’ in your own life more and more, if you have to leave it often. Returning home feels the best.
Raija Komppula, Professor, Tourism Research, University of Eastern Finland