Arctic Reindeer – reconciling reindeer herding, Sámi culture and tourism
How can Arctic Reindeer – a small family-owned company – develop its operations and products in an international and challenging tourism market? And do all this without losing its business principles and identity. The reindeer is not only a symbol but also the most important element of the tourism industry in Lapland. It is not easy to combine traditional reindeer herding, Sámi culture and tourism. There are conflicting interests, different time horizons, practices and pressures coming from the local community. Yet there lies a significant business opportunity that can also contribute to the well-being of areas where reindeer herding is practiced.
Together with Arctic Reindeer it was decided that the cooperation with the ITPD project should focus on determining the strengths and weaknesses of its products, reinforcing its identity as the basis of product development and finding a means that can help the company to recognise its own way of developing products. The company also wanted to identify ways, though which it could differentiate from other similar companies, for example, by being something more than an ordinary reindeer farm. In the thesis, students presented concrete tools for helping the entrepreneur to structure the business environment and time management in such a way that it is possible to combine the different characteristics, practices and values of reindeer herding, Sámi culture and tourism.
The ITPD researcher held several meetings with the entrepreneur, followed several service encounters by using non-participative observation and participated in product testing. All this took place in different seasons. In addition, two students from the Rovaniemi University of Applied Sciences based their thesis work on the implementation of the ITPD approach for the development of products within the company. All these activities contributed to exhaustive observation results that were documented through notes, digital pictures and videos. When conducting observation, special attention was given to the seamlessness of operating and service processes, storytelling, customer’s degree of participation and the meanings that customers are able to create out of the products.
Through the co-operation with the ITPD project, the company was able to try concrete tools for critically analysing and assessing its operations both internally and in relation to its competitors. Arctic Reindeer strengthened its own identity and found also new means of differentiation in the marketplace. The use of a video camera for documenting service encounters provided valuable support for product development. In particular, the observation of customers in real situations led to ideas that helped to improve product performance.
The company was able to realise how tourism, Sámi culture and reindeer herding can be combined in a sustainable way and how such a combination creates meanings for the entrepreneur, business partners and tourists. The outcome of the thesis was a product concept that strengthens the company’s identity and year-round business operations. Arctic Reindeer is keen on developing the concept further and testing it in close cooperation with business partners. By participating in the project, the company was also able to become more proactive.